Taras Ogiychuk uses skills and experience he gained at Washington State University and over three decades in international business in a new venture: humanitarian aid and reconstruction in his native Ukraine.

When Ogiychuk (’93 MBA) first set foot on US soil in 1989, Paula Abdul was charting on the Billboard Hot 100, a McDonald’s Big Mac was $1.65, and the Berlin Wall was just months from being torn down. He and 15 other university students participated in a six-week exchange program hosted by WSU, and it was a bit of a culture shock.

Profile of man, Taras Ogiychuk, with a WSU sweatshirt
Courtesy Taras Ogiychuk

“In ’89, coming to the US from the Soviet Union, it’s like traveling to a different planet,” Ogiychuk says.

When three WSU deans visited Ukraine shortly after that first visit, Ogiychuk was tapped to translate for Rom Markin, dean of what was then called the College of Business and Economics. After several days traveling together, Markin asked Ogiychuk if he’d like to go to school at WSU. Ogiychuk replied, “Of course.”

He returned to WSU in 1990 and says his years in Pullman were among the most impactful of his life. He fondly recalls reggae nights at the Cavern, a local bar on Greek Row, and becoming the first Soviet member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He remains in touch with some of his fraternity brothers.

After graduating, Ogiychuk retained his ties to the region. His first job after earning his MBA was with the Postharvest Institute for Perishables at the University of Idaho, working with a grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on projects in Russia and Ukraine.

Ogiychuk couldn’t have known the USSR would dissolve at the end of the year after he began his MBA studies. He returned to a changed economic landscape and soon found the marketing and communication skills he’d learned at WSU were extremely useful in a country rapidly shifting toward capitalism.

After finishing his work with USAID, Ogiychuk struck out on his own and has since formed business partnerships that span multiple industries including power, real estate, and hospitality.

“Having connections in the US and having the knowledge of a business student in the US, I was able to come up with some good business ideas,” Ogiychuk says. “When I met some businesspeople in Ukraine, we merged our experience and our capabilities as a startup business⁠—and one business led to another.”

Ogiychuk and his wife and son were living in Kharkiv, about 30 miles from the Russian border, when Russia began its invasion in February 2022. Within hours, the city was the target of intense shelling. Ogiychuk packed what he could into a car and drove his family hundreds of miles to get away from the fighting. They are now taking refuge in Poland.

With his buildings empty of tenants and many of his businesses dormant, Ogiychuk began to think of ways he could use his connections to aid the war effort. He began with helping to secure equipment such as helmets and bulletproof vests for the army and has since expanded into humanitarian aid and reconstruction with the help of US-based partner Matt Moore.

“We have opened a company called Amerikrane that will be involved in rebuilding and reconstruction of Ukraine once the war is over,” Ogiychuk says. “With the same partner we also opened a fund called Sprouts of Hope. It’s a charity organization that provides humanitarian help to people, mostly in the Kharkiv region.”

Now that the war front has been pushed back toward the Russian border, Ogiychuk spends much of his time in Kharkiv. He says the city is slowly returning to life now that it’s not constantly under bombardment. When speaking of the war from one of the office buildings he owns in Kharkiv, he seems hopeful.

He plans to restart his businesses when the conflict is resolved and perhaps reclaim a restaurant and hotel he owned in Crimea before the war.

While it’s been more than a decade since he’s been to Pullman, he says he thinks about visiting every year and hopes he will have the opportunity when the war is over.

He says he feels a deep sense of gratitude to WSU and the Markin family who made the life-changing time at WSU possible.

“Those were my best years,” Ogiychuk says. “I learned a lot, and made a lot of friends, and applied all the knowledge that I received there in my business career and my life.”