Strengthening the rule of law

Loyola PROLAW grads in Ukraine work to make real change

“There’s a lot to do, and we’ve only just started our work,” says Kateryna Shyroka (LLM ‘18), a trial judge on the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine. “We’ll need 10 years—or maybe more—to make real change and build a new justice system.”

Ukraine has long ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries, with a historically weak justice system, opaque government, extensive business-political ties, and rampant bribery. With the establishment of the High Anti-Corruption Court in April 2019, the country took a substantial step in its journey toward greater transparency and good governance. Shyroka has been part of such crucial work as issuing the October 2021 arrest in absentia of former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted from office in the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity.” She’s one of several Ukrainians bringing the practical skills they gained in Loyola University Chicago’s Rule of Law for Development (PROLAW) program to bear in their home country.

PROLAW, which offers LLM and MJ degrees at Loyola’s campus in Rome, is a unique academic and experiential learning program that prepares students for jobs in the growing rule of law and development field. Graduates have wide-ranging career options in the public, private, civil society, and academic sectors. PROLAW students from across the globe follow the program together as a cohort, gaining a large international network and exposure to real-world challenges.

Aiding Ukrainians at home and abroad

Ganna Shvachka, PhD (LLM ‘21), is changing lives in concrete ways. Among the people she’s helped is a soldier in the Ukrainian army who lost both hands and both legs. With rehabilitation support from Shvachka’s organization, he now works in the office of the Ukrainian president. In another case, a newborn baby had been dropped off at a battlefield medical base. Shvachka and her colleagues brought the child safely to a city orphanage, where he was adopted.

This work was quite a departure from Shvachka’s longtime academic career, which stalled when her husband accepted a position in Slovakia and she had difficulty finding work at a university there. She used her extensive network to build a new career in humanitarian work assisting people in Ukraine’s eastern conflict zone as well as Ukrainians living in Slovakia.

In 2014, Shvachka founded International Humanitarian Aid Projects Ukraine-Slovakia SOS, under the patronage of the Slovak Republic’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs with additional support from private individuals and organizations. “We’ve raised close to 250,000 Euros for a variety of civilian emergency facilities in eastern Ukraine,” she says, explaining that her organization also manages the overland logistics involved in bringing aid, supplies, and medical equipment from Slovakia.

Ukrainians are the largest group of foreign nationals living in Slovakia. To assist this community, Shvachka also heads the civic association SME SPOLU, leading a development project on the rights of and best practices for refugees and internally displaced persons. The association is sponsored by SlovakAid, similar to the US Agency for International Development (USAID). She’s also a cultural mediator who coordinates and consults on social and cultural activities between Ukrainian community members in Slovakia and the Slovak majority.

“I believe the success of my project proposal was based on the skills and knowledge I received as a PROLAW student.”

The mother of two, Shvachka says she wouldn’t have been able to enroll in the PROLAW program in Rome, but took advantage of the remote instruction offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The practical curriculum gave her concrete skills like proposal writing that “help me run my projects more professionally,” she says.

After graduating, she was chosen as a Loyola Rule of Law Institute research fellow for 2021-22. “I’m working on the topic of protecting human, social, and economic rights of Ukrainian labor migrants in Slovakia,” she says. Although scholars have studied similar issues in neighboring countries, “I’m the first to research Ukrainian migrants in Slovakia—and I believe the success of my project proposal was based on the skills and knowledge I received as a PROLAW student.”

A force against corruption

Shyroka started her career as a Ministry of the Interior investigator of economic crimes, then led a corporate legal department before being appointed a district administrative court judge. In that position, she worked on the issue of access to justice for residents of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

“Because one of the parties in our administrative law cases is government, we used the rule of law very often, finding the balance between the government’s interest and the person’s interest,” she says. During her time on this court, Shyroka developed a course to assist administrative judges in determining what constitutes acceptable evidence and began conducting lectures on evidence and case management for law students. She remains a trainer at Ukraine’s National School of Judges.

“The knowledge is very practical—I still use templates from the program to advocate for specific issues.”

Wanting to deepen her knowledge of the rule of law and seeking a program for students who’d already established their careers, Shyroka enrolled in PROLAW. “I’d never studied abroad or been in such an international cohort,” she says. “Everyone brought their unique insights and perspectives to our discussion; they taught me to apply a broader international perspective. The knowledge is very practical—I still use templates from the program to advocate for specific issues.”

When Shyroka entered a multitiered, highly competitive process to join the bench of the Ukraine High Anti-Corruption Court, she says, “what I’d learned in PROLAW gave me a better chance to win,” explaining that the program taught her to move beyond written laws and look at basic principles of justice.

Along with the national anti-corruption investigative bureau and the special anti-corruption prosecutors’ office, the court is part of trifold Ukrainian bodies designed to be independent. “There’s been a high level of corruption in Ukraine, especially in the judiciary, so if corruption cases are to be heard in court, they have to be protected from outside influence,” Shyroka says.

The court has both investigative judges, who issue search warrants, set bails, order detention, and perform all other pre-trial functions, and trial judges, who hear cases and render verdicts. Shyroka began as an investigative judge, then became a trial judge this past December. “We also engage with the public by explaining complex legal matters in an understandable way,” she says.

“For example, all our judgments are posted online. We’re very active on social media—you can even find cases on our YouTube channel. We’re trying to change the view of the judicial system, and transparency is one of the ways we make that change.”

Human rights leader

Iryna Ivankiv, PhD (LLM ‘15), is a human rights officer for the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, part of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A seasoned scholar and researcher on human rights issues, Ivankiv worked until recently as a national project officer and national rule of law advisor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization. OSCE focuses on arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and fair elections.

“PROLAW was my first experience working with people from different geographical areas. … The Loyola experience has made my work much better.”

Ivankiv heard about PROLAW while working against child trafficking and cybercrime as part of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Ukraine. 

“PROLAW was my first experience working with people from different geographical areas, and I hadn’t realized how important it would be to be part of an international group and study with lawyers from around the world,” she says. For a decade, Ivankiv’s scholarship has focused partly on environmental and sustainable development aspects of human rights. As a PROLAW student, “I realized my approach was quite Eurocentric and western-centric,” she says. “I changed my approach and introduced the Asian and African angles. The Loyola experience has made my work much better.”

Ivankiv continues, “The concepts I’d learned earlier as a law student were vague, faraway, and theoretical, but PROLAW was practical and hands on.” Completing the program, she says, was key to landing her position with OSCE. Her achievements there included creating a coalition for reforming the entrance exam for Ukrainian LLM programs—previously a corrupt process based on influence rather than merit—and helping to introduce a human rights angle to summer lectures in criminal law given by visiting senior law professors for junior law faculty at various universities.

In her current role with the UN, Ivankiv helps identify, report, analyze, advise, and build partnerships addressing existing and emerging human rights violations related to the ongoing conflict. “We’re monitoring and following up in several strategic areas, including specific crimes like terrorism and high treason,” she says. “We also handle more topical issues, like mandatory vaccinations for educators.” Ivankiv also continues as a part-time senior lecturer at Ukraine’s National University. 

As the rule of law gains ground in Ukraine, the community of scholars, legal practitioners, and others focused on reform remains tightly knit. “Almost every year, we recommend a student or two or three for PROLAW,” says Ivankiv, who recommended Shyroka for the program after meeting her at an event focused on access to justice.

Fortunately for these Ukrainian champions of the rule of law—and for the other PROLAW students who benefit from their rich experience and insights—“the program administration usually says yes and admits the students we’ve recommended.” –Gail Mansfield (February 2022)


Loyola’s program in Rule of Law for Development prepares you to become a rule of law advisor, particularly in countries that are developing, in economic transition, or recovering from violent conflict. Through the program, you’ll gain a fast, connected network from around the world and build practical skills in areas like conflict resolutions and peace building; constitution building and access to justice; economic development; and environmental justice.  Learn More