Exclusive: Son of producer who worked with Ukraine's president gets senior government job

KIEV (Reuters) - The son of a film producer who helped President Volodymyr Zelenskiy become a household name as an actor has been appointed the Ukrainian government’s chief economic adviser, a senior government official said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

A former comedian and actor, Zelenskiy swept to power casting himself as a political outsider who would clean up Ukrainian politics and bring in new faces, but he has faced scrutiny over his appointments since taking office in May.

Alexander Rodnyansky, an economist at Britain’s Cambridge University, had already been part of a team of advisers and worked on Zelenskiy’s economic program after he was elected this year.

But government sources said he had been promoted to chief economic adviser and the appointment was confirmed in a written statement to Reuters from the state secretary of the cabinet of ministers, Volodymyr Bondarenko.

Rodnyansky, 34, acknowledged his name could attract unwanted attention to his appointment.

“I was told by people working in the president’s office that my surname was a risk factor. My surname could be a scandal in and of itself. I was told this even before I had decided whether I want to join (the government) or not,” Rodnyansky said by telephone.

It is not clear why his appointment, which could give him a lot of influence over economic policy, has not been announced.

Since he rose to power, Zelenskiy has appointed a chief of staff who was the lawyer of a tycoon, Ihor Kolomoisky, whose business ties to Zelenskiy have colored investors’ views on Ukraine. He has also appointed several friends and business associates to positions in government, but he has denied accusations of nepotism.

Rodnyansky’s father, also called Alexander, founded the 1+1 television channel that screened hit comedy shows by Zelenskiy’s production company Kvartal 95 and helped make the future president a household name.

Rodnyansky senior, whose films include the 2014 drama Leviathan which won a Golden Globe, is now based in Russia, which backs separatists waging an uprising in east Ukraine.

1+1 was later acquired by Kolomoisky, and the channel became a platform for Zelenskiy’s election campaign.

After leaving Kiev at the age of six, Rodnyansky junior grew up in Germany, studied and worked mainly in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. From 2009 to 2011, he was the Head of Business Development at his father’s film company.

Rodnyansky told Reuters he was introduced to Honcharuk in June by Serhiy Shefir, a co-founder of Kvartal 95 who is also the president’s chief assistant.

“The route to our first meeting (with Honcharuk) was short, because they knew about me through my father,” he said. “On the other hand, you can count the number of Ukrainian professors in Western universities on one hand.”

Editing by Matthias Williams and Timothy Heritage