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Kateryna Smagliy: Fighting for democracy

June 22, 2022

Ukrainian diplomat and McCain Institute scholar Kateryna Smagliy’s days in DC are packed with meetings supporting her country

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in ASU Thrive’s special photography issue, celebrating a day in the life of inspiring people across the ASU community. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One week before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Kateryna “Katja” Smagliy moved to Washington, D.C., for her post at the embassy of Ukraine. 

Previously, the McCain Institute selected her as a 2019 McCain Global Leader to focus on strengthening democracy in her country. She calls the late Sen. John McCain one of democracy’s biggest supporters. He demonstrated “there are people ready to act in support of their values,” she says. 

Before her current embassy position, Smagliy served as director of the Kennan Institute Kyiv Office, promoting Ukraine’s public and cultural diplomacy, and led the Anti-Crisis Humanitarian Program of the International Renaissance Foundation. Smagliy also worked for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

For this photo feature, we spent the day with Smagliy to learn more about her work for democracy as an ambassador.

In the top photo, Kateryna Smagliy speaks with Mary Leonard, founder of Love In ALX, which helps Ukrainian refugees find housing in Poland.

woman meeting with people at Ukraine House

Kateryna Smagliy’s day in the life, fighting for democracy

Wake up just after sunrise

Prepare for the day

Attend daily staff meeting with ambassador

Eat lunch while reading through notes for the night’s presentation

Meet with a group of analysts from Washington-based think tanks in the afternoon

Meet with Mary Leonard who started a nonprofit to help Ukrainian refugees find housing in Poland mid-afternoon

Meet with supporters at the Ukraine House late afternoon

Present and answer questions at George Washington University event during the dinner hour

Arrive home late in the evening

Eat a small snack 

Go to sleep

During the 12 hours of her working day, Smagliy met or talked to dozens of people in her official capacity as a diplomat.

Close up of Ukraine flag and outside of Ukraine house

Woman laying sunflowers on stairs

An international community in the U.S. capital

Since the war began, supporters of Ukraine have left signs and yellow flowers in front of the embassy, located along the busy M Street in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood. As Smagliy travels around the city, she frequently spots newly hung Ukrainian flags outside other embassies, businesses and houses, as people show their support for her country.

woman sitting in maroon chair

Teaching others about her country 

Smagliy frequently gets invited to speak at university events. She enjoys this type of “professor” role as she aims to teach about Ukraine’s current affairs, keeping in mind that some students could be future diplomats or political leaders. 

Woman speaking into microphone

On a busy Tuesday, Smagliy wraps up the day around 8 p.m. after speaking at a George Washington University event “Ukraine Under Seige” alongside Ukrainian American journalist Natalia Antonova and Ukrainian visiting professor Roman Kalytchak.

View of people through door sitting at table

woman walking down stairs

The daily work of democracy

“This big broad picture and the hours of communication, that’s what together transform you and make you a new, more compassionate individual,” Smagliy says.

With the war, she spends at least 50% of her time speaking and attending fundraisers. Her role also includes many meetings with different people from different walks of life. 

“The McCain Institute taught us key values and aimed to make sure that we stay strong, focused, determined.”

— Kateryna “Katja” Smagliy, the first secretary of the embassy of Ukraine, scholar from ASU’s McCain Institute for International Leadership

Photos by Aaron Kotowski. Story by Melanie Padgett Powers.

RELATED: Art as outreach: Students create Phoenix mural to support Ukraine

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Students create Phoenix mural to support Ukraine

Design students create central Phoenix mural to support Ukrainians under siege
April 26, 2022

A group of Arizona State University students painted a colorful mural in central Phoenix over the weekend supporting the people of Ukraine in their resistance to the Russian invasion.

The mural, on a wall on the east side of Seventh Avenue just north of Encanto Boulevard, is in the bright blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag and includes the country’s symbol, the sunflower, and the words “Stand With Ukraine.”

Iryna Demianiuk, who is graduating with a master’s degree in architecture this semester, is from Ukraine and led the effort in her Subversive Design class in The Design School.

Several of her classmates, along with some members of the newly formed Ukrainian Association of ASU and a few volunteers, completed the mural over three weekends, finishing last Saturday.

“The Ukrainian Association of ASU started talking about how we could bring more awareness of Ukraine to the community in Phoenix,” she said.

“So I had this idea of engaging my classmates, and I’m happy they agreed to participate.”

Student painting mural on a wall

ASU student Iryna Demianiuk helps paint a "Stand with Ukraine" mural in central Phoenix on April 23. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

The Ukrainian Association of ASU came up with some ideas for a mural, which includes an image of a Ukrainian farm tractor towing a Russian tank, and the class created a digital model. The students spent two weekends sketching the design on the wall in front of two homes on Seventh Avenue and then painted it in last Saturday. The two homeowners and the city of Phoenix gave their approvals.

“’Stand with Ukraine’ is the main tag that’s been around for years,” Demianiuk said. “The war has been happening in our country for eight years, since 2014, and not that many people know that unfortunately. Now more people are aware, but we still wanted to bring it more to light.”

Demianiuk visited family and friends in Ukraine over winter break. The start of the invasion in February was very difficult for her.

“There are no words to explain it. For the first months, it was terrible,” she said.

“Now we are kind of adjusting and finding our positions in this situation, and trying to help as much as we can.”

The Subversive Design class is taught by Danielle Foushée, an assistant professor in the Design School, director of the Subversive Creativity Lab at ASU and founder of the Phoenix Mural Project, a public art initiative.

“I started the Phoenix Mural Project in 2016 when I came to ASU because I have always been all about public art for my research and creative practice,” she said.

Foushée had just finished a 12,000-mile road trip to look at public art around the West. During that trip and after she moved to Phoenix, she noticed the many murals around the city.

“But there was no information or map. There was nothing. So I started taking photos. And then I had 400 photos that were geotagged,” she said.

So she created the online resource of a Google map of photos, that now include 700 murals. She also held mural festivals in 2018 and 2021, bringing together dozens of artists to create murals around the city.

The paint and supplies for the “Stand With Ukraine” mural came from the Phoenix Mural Project and donations, including Ace Hardware.

ASU's Subversive Design course looks at design practices through a social justice lens.

Clare Witt, a graduate student in visual communication, is in the class and was among the participants at the mural painting last weekend.

“We were talking about murals in the class and we wanted to find a topic that we were passionate about,” she said.

“And when (Demianiuk) came up with the idea, we were like, ‘Yes we want to support this and make an awesome mural at the same time.’”

"I am inspired every day by the dedication of our students, faculty and staff to make a better world through design," said Paola Sanguinetti, director of The Design School.

"Professor Danielle Foushée is actively engaged with our local communities and teaches all her classes through a lens of empathy. This mural is a wonderful example of how our faculty and students at The Design School use their voice to shed light on global issues that impact all of us," Sanguinetti said.

Demianiuk said she wanted the mural to be cheerful and not tragic.

“I really want to remind people about the strength of the Ukrainian people,” she said.

“We are united and strong in our effort of protecting freedom and justice, and that’s what makes me speak up and try to engage more people.”

After she graduates, Demianiuk hopes to work in the U.S. for a few years before returning to Ukraine.

“I know that I can do a lot there as an architect,” she said. “I can be a part of rebuilding our cities.”

DONATE: For those that are interested in donating, the students are raising money to assist in relocating Ukrainians.

More on Ukraine

Top photo: Students from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the Ukrainian Student Association and a few volunteers paint a “Stand with Ukraine” wall mural on Seventh Avenue, south of Thomas Road, in Phoenix on Saturday, April 23. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News