Posted by: Chandali Vinyard, Political Section, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Colorado Children'S Day at Boulder

Colorado Children’S Day at Boulder

December is a special time of year for all Americans, no matter what part of the country one lives in or religious background one has.  My favorite part of the holiday season in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado is the giant star lit up on the side of the mountain above the city between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Boulder, well known for being one of the most unusual towns in the United States, is situated at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains. It attracts a wide variety of people, especially those interested in alternative health and lifestyles and passionate about outdoor activities. My parents both moved to Boulder in the 1970s, and as young adults, became part of the Shambhala Buddhist community there, which is one of the largest Buddhist communities in the United States.

While my mother’s family has Jewish Eastern-European roots and my father’s family has Christian English-French roots, at our home we celebrated a mix of Christmas and Children’s Day, the Shambhala Buddhist holiday that falls on the Winter Solstice, December 21. Decorating for the holidays usually started sometime in mid-December, whenever my mom was ready to go out and look for a Christmas tree at one of the lots around town. My mom truly has one of the most beautiful collections of Christmas ornaments I’ve ever seen, including beautifully decorated glass balls that my grandmother’s family brought from Poland to the United States, as well as newer ornaments that my grandmother, mother, my sister and I have carefully picked out over the years. I vividly remember getting the boxes of ornaments out of storage and opening up each meticulously wrapped ornament, hoping that it would be one of my favorites so that I could find the perfect prominent place for it on the

Shambhala Shrine

Shambhala Shrine

tree. We always saved our lovely tree topper, stacked onion-shaped golden balls with red and silver adornments, bought in Russia by my great grandmother, for last. Once the tree was done, it was time to set up our Children’s Day shrine. We used a small table next to the tree, spread with a golden-yellow satin cloth, as gold is a royal color in Shambhala Buddhism. Then came the King and Queen of Shambhala, two exquisitely-dressed cloth dolls, and a number of special objects and offerings, including candles, juniper branches, incense, candies and other small objects sacred to our family.

Since we celebrated both Christmas and Children’s Day, in my family we never opened any gifts on Children’s Day, though I had friends who did. Our family would go together to the Buddhist center in Boulder, the Shambhala Center, for the Children’s Day events. The main event was the Children’s Day play, featuring community members as the Rigden King and Queen of Shambhala, and the tiger, lion, dragon and garuda (a fictional Buddhist animal). The play centers around the magical city of Kalapa, which is the capital of the Kingdom of Shambhala. Generally every year the play and story are slightly different, but always emphasize upliftedness, generosity, kindness and cheerfulness, with the King and Queen hosting a grand banquet for all the children and families of the Kingdom to celebrate the specialness of their children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness to the end of the year. The story may also have the King and Queen delivering gifts to children, similar to the way that Santa does in the Christian tradition. The Shambhala community’s celebration of Children’s Day is inspired not only by pagan celebrations of mid-winter but arises also out of the Japanese holidays of Boy’s Day and Doll’s Day, two separate days in spring when boys and girls of a certain age are presented to the temple and honored with special gifts.

For me, Christmas Day on December 25 is not a religious holiday, but a day to spend enjoying time with family, opening presents, admiring our beautiful tree, and eating. Our family spends weeks picking out gifts for each other, and we also take a lot of joy in wrapping every gift, be it tiny or large, in pretty, artistic wrapping paper and ribbon. After opening presents, we often go out to a movie in the afternoon, or play board games before dinner. While our family doesn’t have any particular dinner that is a must for Christmas, the day is not complete without cookies. My mom and I usually select a few cookie recipes from her old collection of Gourmet magazines to make every year in the days leading up to Christmas. Dinner on Christmas is usually something like roast beef and baby potatoes, a French baguette and a fresh green salad, with pie and cookies for dessert.

Now that I’m an adult living away from home, my holiday celebration has changed. When I’m not able to go home for the holidays, I have my own slowly growing collection of ornaments to put on a small tree. I don’t celebrate Children’s Day anymore since I don’t have any children yet and am not a practicing Buddhist. However, I would love to celebrate it again when I have my own children, because it is special to my heart and I like the messages in the Children’s Day story.

Cheerful Children’s Day and Merry Christmas to all!

Posted by: William Bistransky, Consul General, U.S. Embassy in Ukraine

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Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond in Kyiv, Nov. 2014

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond in Kyiv, Nov. 2014

Throughout November, U.S. Embassy Kyiv celebrated National Adoption Month by partnering with stakeholders in Ukraine and the United States to spread the message that all children deserve the chance to live in a permanent home with a loving family.  We strongly believe that all adoptions should be in the best interests of the child and conducted in an ethical and transparent manner that protects children, birth parents, and adoptive parents.

We saw many positive reactions to our Facebook and Twitter posts, which were retweeted, shared, and commented on throughout the month as part of an ongoing positive dialogue about our shared values and desires to forge mutually beneficial new partnerships.

In mid-November, our government’s highest-ranking consular official, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, traveled to Kyiv to celebrate National Adoption Month with us.  She attended Ukraine’s National Day of Prayer for Orphans, hosted by President Poroshenko and his wife.  The fact that such a broad spectrum of people attended that event – including priests and pastors from many denominations – underscored the unique place this issue has in the hearts and minds of Ukrainians.

Acting Assistant Secretary Bond met many of those who work so hard on this issue from the Government of Ukraine, NGOs, the religious community, and civil society.  We discussed the importance of joining the Hague Adoption Convention, and the ways in which the Convention can help protect the rights of adopted children.

Acting Assistant Secretary Bond was moved by the people she met; there are many opportunities to work together to protect and care for children.  She spoke about her experiences in an interview with Facts and Commentary:

As Consul General, I am proud that Americans and Ukrainians deeply respect the same kinds of values, and that both can provide loving homes to a vulnerable population, while building bonds not only between children and parents, but also between our two countries.

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In mid-September, I had the opportunity to travel to Ukraine to see firsthand the work that USAID is doing to support critical recovery and reform efforts. Not only did I return with a better understanding and appreciation of the programming we are implementing, but also was impressed by the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people facing the challenging road ahead.During my trip, I had the opportunity to travel to Dnipropetrovsk – only a couple of hundred miles from the conflict zone in the East where thousands of Ukrainians were driven from their homes by the battle between Ukrainian forces and Russia-supported separatists.At a visit to a Dnipropetrovsk center for internally displaced persons (IDPs), organized and run by volunteers, I was awestruck by the outpouring of support and the capacity of Ukrainians from all walks of life to contribute and assist their countrymen.

This center is providing food, clothing and temporary shelter to over 21,000 people pouring into Dnipropetrovsk from the neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I was able to meet Maria and her young daughter who were forced to leave their home in Horlivka, close to Donetsk and have been in  Dnipropetrovsk for a few weeks. While she told me that being displaced is difficult, she was very impressed with the reception provided in Dnipropetrovsk. Maria spends her days volunteering at the center and helping new arrivals.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander meets Lydia at the Dnipropetrovsk IDP Center. Lydia was forced to leave her home but hopes to return home soon. She is grateful for the support provided by Dopomoha Dnipra and the IDP Center. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander meets Lydia at the Dnipropetrovsk IDP Center. Lydia was forced to leave her home but hopes to return home soon. She is grateful for the support provided by Dopomoha Dnipra and the IDP Center. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

In early June, the center received around 100 people per day. Now, with more than 300 new arrivals per day, the center needs support.The United States Government, in coordination with the government of Ukraine, has responded to the need to help the roughly 271,000 people displaced by this conflict. This center, and others like it, will receive bedroom furniture and kitchen appliances for new arrivals with nowhere else to go. USAID is also developing plans to refurbish two floors of the center to shelter an additional 200 people.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander and Head of Dopomoha Dnipra Foundation Vladislav Makarov sign a Memorandum of Understanding by which USAID will provide funds to assist an additional 200 internally displaced persons. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander and Head of Dopomoha Dnipra Foundation Vladislav Makarov sign a Memorandum of Understanding by which USAID will provide funds to assist an additional 200 internally displaced persons. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

During Ukraine’s Maidan movement, thousands took a stand against corruption and government abuse to demand a free and democratic Ukraine. Throughout my trip, it became evident that the Ukrainian people are eager to contribute to their new government’s efforts. At one meeting, I entered a room packed with dozens of civil society representatives, many of whom we support to build their organizations’ capacity to advocate for and oversee reform efforts in decentralization, transparency, and health. Not only is their passion and dedication working to hold the government accountable, but many are also working to improve the humanitarian situation in the East by helping the government care for IDPs and even feeding and clothing soldiers. They are truly continuing to fight for the dignity that started on the Maidan and are one of the main reasons I’m hopeful about Ukraine’s future.

Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Valeria Lutkovska (left) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander attend the launch of a USAID human rights project in Kyiv. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Valeria Lutkovska (left) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander attend the launch of a USAID human rights project in Kyiv. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

Although the Government was not able to pass an anti-corruption bill on September 16th, key officials remain committed to paving the way for a new Ukraine. I had the honor to meet with newly elected Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klychko – some of you might remember Mr. Klychko, who for years reigned as heavyweight boxing champion of the world before entering the Ukrainian political ring. Mr. Klychko is pushing for major reforms in this city of 4 million to address waste and corruption. USAID is redoubling its efforts to partner with the City on its anti-corruption agenda, especially on e-governance, where USAID has recently hired an advisor to assist the city, the Presidential Administration, and the Ministry of Regional Development.

Looking forward, the U.S. Government remains committed to supporting Ukraine in both the short and long term as its leaders make the difficult sacrifices required to build the stable, democratic, and prosperous country its people deserve.

During President Poroshenko’s visit on September 18th, President Obama announced a new package of assistance totaling $53 million and has requested an additional $45 million from Congress in the next fiscal year to support Ukraine. The U.S. Government has provided $291 million in critical assistance this year as well as a $1 billion loan guarantee in May.

USAID, as part of a U.S. Government interagency team, is working closely with local partners and international donors to deliver immediate support to meet Ukraine’s most urgent areas of need. Together, we can help get relief to IDPs and provide humanitarian assistance to the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine.

USAID is making every effort to help Ukraine prepare for the challenges presented by the coming winter, replacing damaged windows to make homes habitable in the cold, and working with the electrical system managers to reduce the dangers of black-outs because of the fuel shortage. We are gearing up to assist in next month’s parliamentary elections to help ensure that the voices of all Ukrainians are heard and represented.

While these pressing needs are being addressed, USAID will continue to help Ukraine make important reforms that are necessary to end corruption, decentralize power, and reform its constitution.

In the longer term, USAID continues to work with the Ukrainian Government to support a prosperous Ukraine, with a stable economy, more productive farms, and greater energy efficiency.

In recent months Ukraine has made great strides in many areas. The Ukrainian Parliament unanimously passed the Association Agreement with the European Union, committing Ukraine to economic, judicial and financial reforms in line with European Union policies and legislation. Ukraine has fulfilled several steps of the Minsk ceasefire agreements necessary to stop the loss of life in Eastern Ukraine. A free and fair presidential election was held in May and the country now prepares for historic parliamentary elections.

Despite these achievements, serious challenges remain.

Even while fighting to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and responding to the pressing needs of its citizens in the short-term, the Ukrainian government cannot forget the message of the Maidan and must follow through on its commitments to fighting corruption, improve the rule of law, and build the transparency and accountability that they promised.

Ukraine is at a critical juncture and if history is any indicator, there is a limited window of time for the Ukrainian Government to make good on these commitments. Only through the passing and implementation of challenging reforms, will Ukraine be successful in the long road ahead. The United States, including USAID, look forward to remaining a strong and committed partner in this journey.

Story by: SHAPE Public Affairs Office

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August 28, 2014

Mons, BELGIUM – NATO released new satellite images on Thursday, 28 August 2014, that show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine. The images, captured in late August, depict Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action by establishing firing positions in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine.

Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC), Allied Command Operations said the images confirmed what NATO and its Allies had been seeing for weeks from other sources.

“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Tak. “The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” he said.

These latest images provide concrete examples of Russian activity inside Ukraine, but are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall scope of Russian troop and weapons movements.

“We have also detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defence systems, artillery, tanks, and armoured personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Tak. “The presence of these weapons along with substantial numbers of Russian combat troops inside Ukraine make the situation increasingly grave,” he said.

Also released were images showing substantial activity inside Russia in areas adjacent to the border with Ukraine. NATO believes this activity is being conducted in direct support to forces operating inside Ukraine, and is part of a highly coordinated and destabilising strategy.

“Russia is reinforcing and resupplying separatist forces in a blatant attempt to change the momentum of the fighting, which is currently favouring the Ukrainian military,” Brigadier General Tak said. “Russia’s ultimate aim is to alleviate pressure on separatist fighters in order to prolong this conflict indefinitely, which would result in further tragedy for the people of Eastern Ukraine,” he added.

The source of the images is an independent firm named Digital Globe. The images have not been altered or changed by NATO. Additional information has been added to identify locations, dates and equipment. DigitalGlobe images can be independently verified: http://www.digitalglobe.com

Release of Satellite Imagery – 28 August 2014

Image #1 provided by Digital Globe

Image #1 provided by Digital Globe

Image 1 shows Russian military units moving in a convoy formation with self-propelled artillery in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine, well inside territory controlled by Russian separatists. The image was captured on 21 August 2014. There is confidence the equipment is Russian, since Ukrainian units have not yet penetrated this far into separatist controlled territory.

Image #2 provided by Digital Globe

Image #2 provided by Digital Globe

Image 2 shows Russian self-propelled artillery units set up in firing positions near Krasnodon, Ukraine. They are supported by logistical vehicles which are likely carrying extra ammunition and supplies. This configuration is exactly how trained military professionals would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers. Russian artillery systems like these have recently shelled Ukrainian positions outside the city of Luhansk in conjunction with a separatist counteroffensive to attempt to break the Ukrainian siege of the city.

Image #3 provided by Digital Globe

Image #3 provided by Digital Globe

Image 3 includes two pictures (left and right) and shows a military deployment site on the Russian side of the border, near Rostov-on-Don. This location is approximately 31 miles or 50 kilometres from the Dovzhansky, Ukraine border crossing.
 
The image on the left was captured on 19 June 2014 and shows the area to be mostly empty at this time. The image on the right was taken two months later on 20 August 2014 and shows the same location. Russian main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, cargo trucks and tented accommodations can all be clearly seen. This is one example of the multiple encampments that Russia has positioned near its border with Eastern Ukraine. Many of these forces are deployed within a few kilometers of Ukraine, and are capable of attacking with little warning, and could potentially overwhelm and push-back Ukrainian units. Russia has also moved significant numbers of combat aircraft and helicopters to airfields along the border. Russian unmanned aircraft routinely cross into Ukrainian airspace.
 
Some equipment from these locations is moved across the border and is used to resupply and equip separatist forces operating in Ukraine. For months, Russia has provided separatist fighters with heavy equipment in the form of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers. Air defense systems have also been provided to separatists, even following the downing of Malaysian airlines flight MH17.
Image #4 provided by Digital Globe

Image #4 provided by Digital Globe

Image 4, captured on 23 July 2014, depicts what are probably six Russian 153mm 2S19 self-propelled guns located in Russia near Kuybyshevo. This site is situated 4 miles, or 6.5 kilometres, south of the Ukraine border, near the village of Chervonyi Zhovten. The guns are pointed north, directly towards Ukrainian territory (see North indicator on image). See image 5 for an overview of where these guns are situated in relation to Ukrainian territory.
Image #5 provided by Digital Globe

Image #5 provided by Digital Globe

Image 5 shows a wider overview including the position of the self-propelled guns from image 4. Note the North indicator on this image, and remember that the guns are orientated in this location. It is clear that from this location, it would be impossible NOT to fire into Ukrainian territory. This is clearly NOT an exercise; these guns are being used to support separatist forces operating in the territory of Ukraine.

Posted by: Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State
July 14, 2014
Mortar Attack in Luhansk, Ukraine on July 14, 2014

Mortar Attack in Luhansk, Ukraine on July 14, 2014

The United States’ goal throughout the crisis in Ukraine has been to support a democratic Ukraine that is stable, unified, secure both politically and economically, and able to determine its own future. Therefore, we support ongoing dialogue among the foreign ministers from Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia to work toward a sustainable ceasefire by all parties in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine that would build toward a lasting peace. We should emphasize, however, that our ultimate goal is not just a temporary halt to violence. We want Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and occupying Crimea, a part of Ukraine’s territory, and allow all of the people of Ukraine to come together to make their own decisions about their country’s future through a democratic political process.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko has proposed a detailed peace plan that includes a promise of amnesty for separatists who laid down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes, decentralization of powers within Ukraine, and protection of the Russian language. He also implemented a unilateral ten-day ceasefire on June 20 to create room for a political solution, which unfortunately was not reciprocated by the separatists and their Russian backers.

While Russia says it seeks peace, its actions do not match its rhetoric. We have no evidence that Russia’s support for the separatists has ceased. In fact, we assess that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons, other military equipment and financing, and continues to allow militants to enter Ukraine freely. Russia denies this, just as it denied its forces were involved in Crimea — until after the fact. Russia has refused to call for the separatists to lay down their arms, and continues to mass its troops along the Ukrainian border. Many self-proclaimed “leaders” of the separatists hail from Russia and have ties to the Russian government. This all paints a telling picture of Russia’s continued policy of destabilization in eastern Ukraine.

Here are the facts:

  • Russia continues to accumulate significant amounts of equipment at a deployment site in southwest Russia. This equipment includes tanks of a type no longer used by the Russian military, as well as armored vehicles, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, and air defense systems. Russia has roughly doubled the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers at this site. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived at this site.
  • We are confident Moscow is mobilizing additional tanks that are no longer in the active Russian military inventory from a depot to send to this same deployment site.
  • We are concerned much of this equipment will be transferred to separatists, as we are confident Russia has already delivered tanks and multiple rocket launchers to them from this site.
  • Available information indicates Moscow has recently transferred some Soviet-era tanks and artillery to the separatists and that over the weekend several military vehicles crossed the border.
  • Social media videos of separatist military convoys suggest Russia in the past week alone has probably supplied the militants with at least two-dozen additional armored vehicles and artillery pieces and about as many military trucks.
  • Publicly available videos posted on July 14 of a Luhansk convoy on the road to Donetsk revealed at least five T-64 tanks, four BMP-2 armored personnel carriers (APC), BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, three towed antitank guns, two ZU 23-2 antiaircraft guns, and probably a 2B16 mortar.
  • A video of Krasnodon, near the Izvaryne border crossing, on 11 July showed two BTR armored personnel carriers, two antitank guns, and various trucks on a road heading in a westerly direction towards Donetsk.
  • A video filmed in Donetsk on 11 July showed a convoy of three BMD-2 APCs, two BMPs, one 2S9 self-propelled gun, and a BTR-60 APC.
  • In addition, after recapturing several Ukrainian cities last weekend, Ukrainian officials discovered caches of weapons that they assert came from Russia, including MANPADS, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.
  • Ukrainian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian-provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin of said equipment, in the areas they have liberated from the separatists.
  • Photographs of destroyed or disabled separatist equipment in eastern Ukraine have corroborated that some of this equipment is coming from Russia.
  • Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” to establish a recruiting office in Moscow.
  • Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who has long had a distinguished career in the Ukrainian military, was taken by separatists in mid-June. She is now being held in a prison in Voronezh, Russia. According to the Ukrainian government, she was transferred to Russia by separatists.
  • Separately Russia continues to redeploy new forces extremely close to the Ukrainian border. We have information that a significant number of additional military units are also in the process of deploying to the border.

Ukraine’s Good-Faith Efforts: In a bid to unify the country, President Poroshenko outlined a comprehensive peace plan on June 7. President Poroshenko’s plan offers amnesty to separatists who lay down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes; commits to providing a safe corridor for Russian fighters to return to Russia; establishes a job creation program for the affected areas; includes an offer of broad decentralization and dialogue with eastern regions, including the promise of early local elections; and grants increased local control over language, holidays, and customs. President Poroshenko also has reached out to the residents of eastern Ukraine and is pursuing constitutional reform which will give local regions more authority to choose their regional leaders and protect locally-spoken languages.

President Poroshenko implemented a unilateral seven-day (later extended to ten days) unilateral ceasefire on June 20. He also proposed meeting with leaders from eastern Ukraine — including separatists — despite their stated unwillingness to abide by the cease-fire or to negotiate.

Yet Russia and its proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk did not act on this opportunity for peace. Hours after the ceasefire began, Russia-backed separatists wounded nine Ukrainian service members. During the course of the ten-day ceasefire, Russia-backed separatists attacked Ukrainian security forces over 100 times, killing 28 service members. The separatists continue to hold more than 150 hostages, mostly civilians, including teachers and journalists. Separatists have refused all offers by the Ukrainian government to meet.

This timeline of events leading to, during, and after the unilateral Ukraine ceasefire illustrates how the good-faith efforts of the Ukraine government and European leaders to broker a ceasefire with Russia and the separatists it backs have been rejected. Russia and the separatists they are supporting continued to destabilize Ukraine throughout the ceasefire, and continue to destabilize Ukraine today.

  • May 25: Petro Poroshenko, who had campaigned on a platform stressing reconciliation with the east and Russia, is elected by an absolute majority of voters in Ukraine.
  • June 8-17: President Poroshenko hosts five rounds of contact group talks, facilitated by the OSCE envoy, in the lead-up to his announcement of a ceasefire.
  • June 12: Poroshenko initiates a call to President Putin to open communication.
  • June 14: EU-brokered gas talks end with a final EU brokered proposal: Ukraine accepts the proposal, but Russia rejected it.
  • June 19: Poroshenko meets with eastern Ukrainian leaders, including separatists, in Kyiv.
  • June 20: Poroshenko implements a seven-day unilateral ceasefire. Hours later, nine Ukrainian service members are wounded by pro-Russian separatists, foreshadowing separatists’ 100 plus violent actions over the next 10 days.
  • June 23: The contact group meets in Donetsk.
  • June 25: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen notes that there are “no signs” of Russia respecting its international commitments with regard to Ukraine.
  • June 27: Ukraine provides constitutional reform provisions to the Venice Commission for review. This reform would allow for the direct election of governors and for local authorities to confer special status on minority languages within their regions.
  • June 27: Poroshenko extends the unilateral ceasefire another 72 hours to allow another chance for OSCE contact group negotiations to show progress.
  • June 28: Ukraine shoots down two Russian UAVs violating Ukraine’s airspace in the Luhansk region.
  • June 30: Due to the separatists’ refusal to abandon violence in favor of negotiation, President Poroshenko allows the cease-fire to expire.
  • July 3: President Poroshenko in a telephone conversation with U.S. Vice President Biden reaffirms that he is ready to begin political negotiations to resolve the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions without any additional conditions.
  • July 8: President Petro Poroshenko visits the former rebel stronghold of Slovyansk to meet with local residents after government forces recapture it from pro-Russian separatists.
  • July 9: Ukraine restores electricity and train service to Slovyansk, and Ukrainian security forces distribute food, drinking water, and humanitarian aid to the population.
  • July 11: The Ukrainian government establishes an inter-agency task force in Slovyansk that is conducting damage, security, and humanitarian needs assessments.
  • July 11: The Ukrainian government reports that it delivered over 60 tons of humanitarian aid supplies in Donetsk Oblast over the preceding 24 hours, bringing the five-day total to 158 tons. President Poroshenko announces that Ukrainian security forces had successfully cleared nearly 100 mines and roadside bombs from liberated territory.

As General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, stated on July 1: “The cease fire in Ukraine was not ended because of accusations; it was ended because Russian-backed separatists responded with violence while President Poroshenko tried to open a window for peace. Russia’s commitment to peace will be judged by its actions, not its words.” As the United States and our European allies have repeatedly stated, we call on the Russian government to halt its material support for the separatists, to use its influence with the separatists to push them to lay down their arms and abide by a ceasefire and to release all hostages. Only then can the process of bringing peace to Ukraine truly begin.

Source

June 1, 2014

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harvey-milk-stampA stamp honoring human rights activist Harvey Milk was dedicated at the White House May 22. Milk (1930–1978) became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

His achievements inspired the LGBT community in the United States and elsewhere at a time when its members experienced widespread hostility and discrimination.

Milk’s political career was tragically cut short less than a year after he took office when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978. In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

The stamp image shows Milk in front of his San Francisco camera store around 1977.

At the dedication, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said that while President Obama is identified with two words — hope and change — “it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official.”

“Hope and change,” Power said, are about envisioning “a world that is fairer, kinder, more just — not just for some people, but for all people.”

The HARVEY MILK® image is licensed by the Harvey Milk Foundation.

Source: IIP Digital | U.S. Department of State

Posted by Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Follow @Stengel 
May 21, 2014
Ukrainian Polling Station

Ukrainian Polling Station

On Sunday, Ukrainians will go to the polls to vote for a new president. But that simple statement does not reckon with the significance of this election. The May 25 vote is not just a validator of their struggle for change and a harbinger of Ukraine’s future – plenty important enough — it is also a demarcation point between the global struggle for freedom and the forces of repression, of nations being able to choose their own future rather than have it imposed upon them.

So this is not just any election. It comes at a perilous moment in Ukraine’s long history. It follows the purported annexation of Crimea and Russia’s own efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the voting. For weeks now the Russian media machine has broadcast fictional stories of a “Neo-Nazi rampage” and a country on the verge of civil war, while the Kremlin has encouraged separatists in the east to seize power at the barrel of a gun.

Last week I traveled to Ukraine to see for myself. I found Kyiv to be calm but nervous; people were going about their business, having coffee at sidewalk cafes, taking their children to school. But they were a little anxious about the election. And why wouldn’t they be? There’s a lot riding on it.

While in Kyiv, I walked through the Maidan and paid my respects at monuments to the Heavenly Hundred, the protesters who gave their lives fighting for a truly representative government. I met young Ukrainians who protested in the Maidan and lost friends in the struggle. I spoke with one university student who told me she had always passed out at the sight of blood, yet during the protests, she volunteered to care for the wounded in one of the Maidan’s makeshift hospitals and never fainted or faltered. She said she has seen enough bloodshed for a lifetime, and now she is focused on finding a democratic future for her country. Everywhere I found a quiet patriotism, a faith that if only the people can exercise their will, Ukraine will prosper.

Graffiti on the side of a building near the Maidan in Kyiv symbolizes Ukrainians' desire to turn their struggle for change into the evolution of their country, May 2014.

Graffiti on the side of a building near the Maidan in Kyiv symbolizes Ukrainians’ desire to turn their struggle for change into the evolution of their country, May 2014.

Sunday’s elections are the best route to political healing in Ukraine. Polls show that more than 70 percent of Ukrainians want to stay intact as a nation. The elections should be an antidote to the mayhem created by Russia and the separatists who seem more intent on tearing the country down than raising it up. Everyone I spoke to in Kyiv wants a nation that includes minority voices, a nation that looks both westward and eastward. They reject the notion that they must choose one or the other.

Elections are never perfect — and this one will not be either. There will be disruptions, and some people will stay home in the east, where election officials have been intimidated and in some cases even kidnapped. Russia has also ensured that no voting will take place in Crimea. But instead of preventing people from voting, the separatists should register their dissent in the voting booth. The story of the 21st century shows that in the end, the ballot box is more powerful than the bullet. Around 400 million people in Europe are eligible to vote this weekend in European Parliamentary elections — Ukrainians deserve the same right to express their will.

More than 200 years ago, Thomas Paine wrote that “the right of voting…is the primary right by which other rights are protected.” Let this election be the beginning and not the end of the Ukrainian people being able to choose and construct their future. It should not only reflect the will of the Ukrainian people but be an engine for protecting the rights of minorities as well. That is the future of Ukraine.