It is because of such people that journalism is called the second oldest profession – that’s what can be said briefly about a person who has been shaping the information policy of the President’s Office for two years now and writing speeches for the head of state, and sometimes himself speaking on his behalf. Of course, Podolyak does this very professionally, and his merit in the fact that Ukraine is head and shoulders above Russia in the information war is quite obvious. And yet, things were not going so well in the information policy of Ukraine if Zelensky needed the help of people like Podolyak and Arestovich … By the way, we already talked about the latter in our dossier, writes Klymenko .
Mikhail Podolyak – Path to journalism
Podolyak Mikhail Mikhailovich was born on February 16, 1972 in Lviv. There is practically no information about his parents: it is only known that they eventually moved to Novovolynsk, where Mikhail Podolyak graduated from high school, and then to Lutsk. Closeness is its hallmark, which is not surprising. After all, a person who has been looking for dirt on others all his life must have tried not to give others clues about himself! And yet, Podolyak is very well known in Ukraine and remembered in Belarus, so as not to let him bury all the undesirable facts of his past.
So, at one time, some media claimed that Podolyak has an older brother Vladimir (born 1965), who has been living in Russia since the late 80s and allegedly works either in the GRU or in the FSB. Hence, they say, the long-standing ties of Mikhail Podolyak with the special services, which he sometimes boasted of! But how reliable this information is is unknown.
At school, Mikhail Podolyak was a solid “good student”, and even an excellent student in chemistry and biology, took places in city olympiads. In 1989, 17-year-old Podolyak went to Minsk, where he entered the medical institute.
However, in Minsk, Podolyak immediately picked up the wind of political “perestroika”. True, being a very materialistic young man, he was carried away not by ideas, but by prospects. Of course, he could not claim a mandate, but he found another calling for himself, which later turned out to be his gold mine: he became a journalist specializing in PR and anti-PR (the so-called black PR), in demand by both the authorities and the opposition. His first articles were published already in 1990. Soon, Podolyak realized that he was much better at working with a pen than practicing in an anatomical theater – and he gradually abandoned his studies at the medical institute. Whether Podolyak managed to finish it or not, whether he even has a diploma of higher education remains one of his secrets.
Also, having remained to live and work in Minsk, Podolyak did not begin to transfer to Belarusian citizenship in the 90s, but kept Ukrainian citizenship for himself. But perhaps it was not about patriotism, but about the benefits that Podolyak never missed. Firstly, this is how he avoided military service: in Belarus he could not be called up as a foreigner, and his native Ukrainian military commissars could not get him in Minsk. Secondly, the status of a foreign citizen helped him to get out of situations in which a Belarusian would have ended up behind bars. And so he “added” only to the forced deportation to Ukraine.
Mikhail Podolyak in Belarus: his political omnivorousness
If Mikhail Podolyak seriously studied as a doctor, then in the mid-90s he would simply have no time to professionally engage in journalism. Meanwhile, in 1994, he became the editor-in-chief of the new edition of Andrey Klimov’s Newspaper (circulation of more than 20,000).
Former fireman Andrey Klimov in the early 90s took up schemes with apartments, on which he rose – becoming one of the beginning Belarusian oligarchs. By 1995, in addition to the newspaper, he already owned a construction company and a bank, and he needed his own publication to be elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus (elections were held in May and December 1995). How 29-year-old Klimov met 22-year-old Podolyak remained their personal secret – perhaps the fact that Klimov was a graduate of the Lviv fire-technical school played a role. But in any case, by that time Podolyak already had enough experience and reputation to become the chief editor and, in fact, Klimov’s image maker. Interspersed with articles praising Klimov’s entrepreneurial genius and boundless humanity,
Klimov was one of the deputies who opposed the early dissolution of the Supreme Council (in 1996), which led him to the ranks of the opposition, and besides this, he also became a personal enemy of Lukashenka – as a result, in 1998 he sat down on charges of major fraud . But by this time, Mikhail Podolyak had already left Klimov, who had become “toxic”, to new customers – who were in abundance before the 1996 early elections.
One of them was the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus Sergei Gaidukevich (now the party is headed by his son Oleg). Having worked with him, Podolyak became the editor of the newspaper Pravda Gaidukevicha. At the same time, he was not at all embarrassed that Gaidukevich was in mild opposition to Lukashenka for one reason – he was much more pro-Russian than “Batska”, and advocated the creation of a confederation of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation even before these countries signed a union treaty. Accordingly, Pravda Gaidukevicha, edited by Podolyak, actively agitated Belarusians for a “union of fraternal peoples.” Today Oleg Gaidukevich recalls Podolyak as follows:
“At that time, 23-year-old Podolyak was completely for Russia, and today he adheres to an anti-Russian point of view. Why did he leave the party? Only because of the “money”, it was not some kind of political disagreement. That is, while he was well paid, and he received a very decent amount at that time – several thousand dollars, no one was earning like that, the young guy worked closely with us. But as soon as the money was gone, he immediately left and became a Russophobe. Such a person is the worst thing that can be in politics! He will sell everyone and always. I am sure that if Mikhail is paid a lot of money, he will again play for Russia tomorrow – it’s only a question of price. ”
A few thousand dollars is a lot of money for a modest party newspaper editor. Therefore, Podolyak could really leave the reliable employers of the Gaidukeviches and go to the oppositionists, who were constantly waiting for the visit of the Belarusian KGB, only in one case – if he received a better offer. And judging by the fact that the Belarusian and Ukrainian media later wrote about him, two more factors contributed to this.
First, Podolyak specialized in “jeans” and other commissioned publications, developing this into a well-established business, later formalized as a media consulting business. It was not enough for him to work for Gaidukevich alone, he wanted to be an independent “media entrepreneur” with many wealthy clients. The Belarusian opposition, which did not spare money for materials that “watered” the authorities or competitors from other parties, gave him many such customers. Secondly, Podolyak actively cooperated with the special services of Belarus and Russia (which he himself admitted more than once), and with the embassies of Western countries. One publication even claimedthat Podolyak was allegedly recruited by the 3rd secretary of the political and economic department of the US Embassy in Minsk, Mark Fungard. They “leaked” information through Podolyak or launched disinformation, and also provided him with a certain “roof”. Perhaps that is why the Belarusian oppositionists were imprisoned, but Podolyak is not!
Apparently, this helped him to avoid lawsuits. Here, the story of the Belarusian publication Nasha Svoboda is indicative, in which Podolyak placed “anti-PR” against the then chairman of the State Control Committee Anatoly Tozik. In August 2002, the Moscow District Court of Minsk found the publication discrediting the honor and dignity of Tozik, imposing a fine and legal costs on the newspaper in the total amount of 54 thousand dollars, and compensation for moral damages on Podolyak in the amount of 2.7 thousand dollars. The newspaper then ceased to exist, and Podolyak immediately found himself a new edition.
The political “omnivorousness” of Podolyak then took on very indecent forms. Belarusian journalist Diana Shibkovskaya told the following about him:
“Mikhail at that time was already sharply opposed to the state power in Belarus and collaborated with the opposition media. One representative of the state press then asked the defecting journalist the question, how can he spin like a weather vane? To which the answer followed: “The professional differs from other journalists in that he is unprincipled.” Podolyak added: “And if, for personal gain, I need to gobble up a fresh bunch of Mr. … on, I will eat it and not choke. If it will shine for me with some big money, I will put all my principles aside. It all depends on whether it is beneficial to me or not.
It is believed that Mikhail Podolyak was deported from Belarus on June 21, 2004 for violent opposition activities, especially since the official reason sounded like “calls for the consolidation of the radical opposition in order to counteract the state bodies of Belarus, which could lead to destabilization of the political situation in the republic.” Agree that it was impossible to think of a better one, with such a “sentence” Podolyak would immediately be accepted into its open arms by the Ukrainian opposition, which was then preparing for the elections and the first Maidan!
However, there is another, not publicized version of the deportation of Podolyak. According to which, this happened as a result of his serious conflict with the chairman of the United Civil Party Anatoly Lebedko. Being one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition, Lebedko was the “darling of the West”, he often met with European politicians, spoke in the US Senate. And then one day something happened that forced Lebedko to accuse Podolyak of greed and immorality, after which the special services of Belarus suddenly hurriedly deported him to Ukraine.
Were they deported or simply transferred to another country a compromised “agent”? How to know! But, perhaps, that is why Podolyak then could not, upon arrival in Kyiv, profitably “sell” himself to the “orange coalition”. Moreover, he soon began to work against its leaders, sowing distrust and enmity among them.
Mikhail Podolyak in Ukraine: from Brodsky to Ivanyushchenko
Immediately upon arrival in Kyiv, Mikhail Podolyak acquired an expensive apartment and a new car there – having bought them either for savings, or for the advance payment and lifting. In 2005, he established the Ukrainian Media Group publishing house and Media Pro System Consulting Group LLC, and began publishing Ukrainska Gazeta. The main activity of Podolyak remained the same: custom-made PR and anti-PR.
And in April 2005, the scandalous article “The Last Supper” was published in Ukrainskaya Gazeta, in which Podolyak raised the topic of the poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko, which was still relevant at that time, focusing on the possible involvement of the “orange oligarch” David Zhvania and the already former deputy chairman of the SBU Vladimir Satsyuka . The article caused a considerable resonance: Podolyak was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office as a witness, the SBU came to him, he was condemned by other journalists. In particular, media expert Natalya Ligacheva said the following about her: “The publications that appeared in Ukrainskaya Gazeta were made without observing any journalistic standards .”
The resonance did not subside for a long time, and this publication played a role in the fact that Vladimir Satsyuk fell into great disfavor with Viktor Yushchenko, was stripped of his titles and, in the end, left for Russia, where he stayed until 2011. And practically no one paid attention to the fact that The Last Supper, which killed Satsyuk, was published shortly after Mikhail Podolyak began working for the notorious Russian-Ukrainian raider Vadim Grib . Who at that time had very big frictions with Vladimir Satsyuk because of NPO “Medingservice”. Thus, Podolyak, fulfilling Hryb’s order, simply “drowned” Satsyuk in the blackest anti-PR!
Having provided an information service to Hryb, Podolyak began working with his good friend since 2006 – no less scandalous oligarch Mikhail Brodsky , who then held the position of chairman of the State Committee for Regulatory Policy. Podolyak joined him as an adviser on media policy and PR, began working in Brodsky’s Obozrevatel, whose editor-in-chief he became in 2011. But a few years later, Podolyak quarreled with Brodsky in the same way as with his former employers. So seriously that when Podolyak became an adviser to the head of the OP and an important person in Zelensky’s team, he began to threaten Brodsky to ” bleed “.
In 2010, Podolyak again tried to work (remotely) in Belarus, where they were then preparing for the next elections and protests. In response, the Belarusian site Svobodnye Novosti Plus allegedly published an interview with Podolyak , in which he boasted of his connections with the special services of Ukraine and Russia, and stated that he was ready to write anything for money. Podolyak soon announced that this interview was a fake, concocted from pieces of his previous “off-the-record conversations” with certain representatives of the special services, and that it was 20% fiction. But then it turns out that it was 80% true?!
When power changed in Ukraine, Mikhail Podolyak got a job as a consultant to Sergei Levochkin , the head of the Administration of President Yanukovych. Due to this, in particular, Podolyak joined the group of selected journalists (with Shuster and Kiselyov) allowed to meet with Yanukovych in Mezhyhirya. After that, he praised Yanukovych very much in his article in the Observer, promoting him as a competent and far-sighted leader, open to dialogue and not tolerating corruption.
It was quite natural that from Levochkin and Yanukovych he switched to PR service for the scandalous Yuri Ivanyushchenko . It seemed that it was simply impossible to whiten the reputation of ” Yura Enakievsky “, but Podolyak took up this business – apparently, for a very good fee!
On April 29, 2011, a press conference was held in UNIAN on the topic “Who and why invented the myth about Yuri Ivanyushchenko?”, which was organized by Tatyana Gavrish (daughter of Stepan Gavrish), her deputy at ILF law firm Alexei Kharitonov and Mikhail Podolyak. It was Podolyak who prepared the main points voiced at this press conference:
- Why was a mass campaign launched in the national media to discredit MP Yuri Ivanyushchenko as much as possible?
- In the course of this company, false documents are used and deliberately false information is reported about Ivanyushchenko’s criminal ties.
- There is no evidence of any connections between Ivanyushchenko and the criminal community of Ukraine, which will be proven by the MP’s legal advisers.
- The SBU and the Prosecutor General’s Office deny the presence of any defamatory materials about People’s Deputy Ivanyushchenko in their archives and in the current investigative proceedings.
- Before the start of the “discrediting campaign”, no one mentioned any connections discrediting the bright image of MP Ivanyushchenko.
Here, as they say, no comments! I wonder if Mikhail Podolyak remembers this press conference? After all, for all his cynicism, he sometimes tries to erase some pages of his past, which have become very undesirable. For example, the article ” OPG Poroshenko VS Kolomoisky “, published in 2010 in the “Observer”, where Podolyak literally ridiculed the future president of Ukraine:
“Today you can talk about Poroshenko either in no way, or with irony. Well, who is he? What is its real (and not imaginary) influence? Foreign Secretary? Not seriously. Just a temporary reprieve. Situational hill on an endless road down. Promising politician? Doubly unimportant. He has no chance to re-enter somewhere in the favorite bedchamber. Too clumsy and greedy, so to speak, thinking “
True, back then Podolyak really could not have predicted that Poroshenko would become president after all. And when this happened, he hastily removed this article from the Observer website. And he was so sure that no one would remember her that in February 2015 he tried to win a place for himself as head of the Kyiv headquarters of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.
Path to Bankova: “Dark Demon” Advisor
At that time, Podolyak did not succeed with the headquarters of the BPP, and he went to the main PR and political technologists for Sergei Dumchev , who spent $ 20 million on his election campaign. Kyiv was hung with billboards with rhinos (the symbol of his party “Movement for Reforms”), Vitaliy Klitschko was poured with black PR in printed leaflets and in the Internet media, some sociological centers drew Dumcheva at least 9% and second place. But when in October 2015 the elections of the Kyiv mayor took place, Dumchev scored only 3.9% and took eighth place. The loss was so deafening against the backdrop of the amount invested in the elections (according to the media, Dumchev was sponsored by Sergei Tigipko ) that Podolyak after that could not find new clients for a very long time. His reputation has gone from bad to worse!
However, in 2016, a good “side job” for Podolyak, who got into the taste of a chic life, was a PR company in defense of the scandalous people’s deputy Alexander Onishchenko . In contrast to the clumsily concocted campaign in defense of Ivanyushchenko, which was based on the primitive method “what is your evidence ?!”, here Podolyak approached the matter thoughtfully and creatively, managing to portray Onishchenko a little guilty, but causing pity and sympathy.
Periodically “bored” Podolyak entertained himself with frank fakes. So, in August 2017, on the Channel 24 website, he wrote that Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite did not want to communicate with Petro Poroshenko – “Her refusal to communicate with Petro Alekseevich is an extremely bad sign. A sign of disappointment for those who sincerely and freely love us.” Soon, the President’s Secretariat officially announced that Podolyak’s statement was a “fake mouse.” But this fake was needed by Podolyak, who was fulfilling someone’s order to discredit Poroshenko – in particular, convincing Ukrainians that the president had become “hands-shaking” in the West and that he needed to be changed. And as Podolyak wrote in January 2021, “fake is the new idol of the new time.”
In the 2019 elections, the participation of Mikhail Podolyak was not noticed – apparently, Zelensky’s team successfully “wetted” Poroshenko even without his help. Therefore, Podolyak resorted to a military trick: he began to slowly water the “servants of the people” with black PR, expecting a business proposal from them. So, in March 2020, Podolyak wrote about Andriy Yermak like this:
“Ermak is evil now. A dark demon behind Zelensky. One that will hard mobilize opponents. Annoy and cause them to grind their teeth. Sooner or later, Zelensky will get tired of him and will try to send Bogdan down the path.”
On Bankovaya they heard him – and literally a month later Podolyak was appointed to the same Yermak as an “anti-crisis adviser.” Behind this intricate title of his position, there was a rapid drop in the rating of the Servant of the People party, followed by a drop in support for Zelensky himself. And Bankovaya really needed an experienced “PR man” who would correct this situation. So Podolyak, in fact, began to shape the information policy of the Zelensky team first, and then began to have a great influence on other policies. It was with his arrival in the OP that the war of the “servants of the people” against Anatoly Shariy was associated, then the same conflict with the Opposition Platform for Life, and, in general, Zelensky’s rhetoric changed dramatically.
But if until the spring of 2022, Mikhail Podolyak was mostly in the shadows, then with the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, he received his “minute of glory” that has not stopped until now. Zelensky was highly appreciated for Podolyak’s ability to turn and twist information in such a way that sometimes he deftly interpreted Ukraine’s defeats into a well-thought-out cunning strategy leading to an inevitable victory, and he immediately rejected all counterarguments as “fakes of Russian propaganda”.
Well, Podolyak deservedly can bear the title of “general of the information war”! But still, we should not forget that he is a hired employee who is now fulfilling the most important order in his life. Still, the military will win the war, and the politicians will sign the peace – but the role of PR people in these events is still secondary.