Ukraine is a nation at war, which is why Natalie Jaresko, the minister of finance, has traveled 20 miles from Kiev to the town of Irpin, a settlement of 40,000 on the edge of a pine forest. She’s here to visit a rearguard army hospital and to console convalescing veterans of recent battles against Russian forces and their proxies in the Ukrainian east. “Where did you serve?” she asks, moving slowly from room to room. “How were you wounded?” She may be from Chicago’s West Side, but she speaks Ukrainian fluently, and if anyone notices her American accent, no one seems to care. Jaresko tells the soldiers they’re heroes, the country’s national accountant handling a job for generals. The crisis has thrust people into unlikely roles.
Three months ago, Jaresko, 49, left the private equity firm that she co-founded in Ukraine in 2006 to join the government of Petro Poroshenko. A billionaire chocolate and confectionery magnate, he was elected president after the uprising known as the Euromaidan Revolution. At the time, Jaresko didn’t even have Ukrainian citizenship. Now, as the country’s top economic official, she’s Ukraine’s liaison to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Tax reform is hers. So is the treasury. She must construct a national budget out of lint. “I can’t wait for the situation to be perfect,” Jaresko says.