An American in Ukraine: Reflections on the Anniversary of the Birth of Taras Shevchenko

Posted by: Pauletta Walsh, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017For the habitual voyager, arriving in a new country is the ultimate traveling experience.  The sights and smells, the vistas of fresh landscapes, the architecture, all officially announce an adventure has begun.  Diplomats may be some of the best explorers in history, from Ibn Battuta, to Machiavelli, and Benjamin Franklin.  They leave their homeland in the service of their leaders, and depart with a profound understanding of other citizens and cultures.

I arrived in Ukraine just in time for the New Year.  Bundled against the cold, I began my exploration of the city.  With encouragement from colleagues at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, I will blog about my discovery of Kyiv and Ukraine.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
On March 9, Ukrainians celebrated the 203rd Anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, the beloved poet, writer and civil activist who is often called the father of Ukrainian literature.  To mark the occasion, U.S. Embassy diplomats recorded some of Shevchenko’s verses. With an Embassy group that included Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her mother, Miss Nadia, I toured the Shevchenko Museum to discover more.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
The Taras Shevchenko Museum is located in Shevchenko’s beloved Kyiv in a mansion formerly owned by a wealthy sugar magnate.  This juxtaposition of housing the most comprehensive collection of artifacts, paintings and memorabilia from Shevchenko’s life, surrounded by such opulence is ironic and poignant.  For Ukrainians, Shevchenko is the premiere national hero.  Son of a serf, at once a novelist and a painter, a poet and a prisoner, Shevchenko was a celebrity and political figure, who finally returned home to the area near the town of Kaniv, to be buried after his death.  To a new generation of Ukrainians, those born after the Soviet era, raised with a unique identity, and who came of age in the era of EuroMaidan, Shevchenko’s dream of Ukrainian freedom resonates with renewed vigor.  The museum provides an opportunity for foreigners and natives alike to make his acquaintance and to draw lessons from his writings on the past and future of Ukraine.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017The museum is housed in one of the many beautiful buildings that grace the cobblestoned streets in the old city.  It opens on to a modern glass atrium, with ample room for a collection of modern art.  Progressing up the marble staircase to the second floor, I walked through room after room adorned with paintings, drawings, and books.  I learned of the Cossack history of Ukraine, and then was led step by step through the various stages of Shevchenko’s life.  Shevchenko’s life story is well known in Ukraine.  Born in 1814, Shevchenko grew up in poverty, was orphaned at the age of 11, and yet managed to acquire an education working as an apprentice to a teacher and deacon.  His early life was dictated by the whims of his masters, yet his time in Vilnius was productive in providing him with an artist’s training.  His subsequent travel with his master to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg changed his life.  Shevchenko was accepted to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and was able to study painting.  More importantly for the history of Ukrainian literature, he began to write poetry.  He also became acquainted with other Ukrainians diaspora artists, one who bought him his freedom in 1838.  In 1840, his first book of poetry, “Kobzar” was published.  This was the beginning of a new chapter, one that would bring him into conflict with the Russian Imperial family and others in the ruling class whose patronage he needed to survive.  Subsequently he penned poems in Ukrainian, where he was critical of the system of serfdom and of the regime of Tsar Nicholas I.  Shevchenko’s last prison sentence was serving six years at a penal colony in Novopetrovsk. On his release, he returned to St. Petersburg where he continued writing until his death at the age of 47 on March 10, 1861, seven days before the emancipation of the serfs.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017But what exactly did the Russian Empire fear?  I looked for those verses that resonated then as now, to understand the Ukrainian identity and their heart that longs for freedom.
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Taras Shevchenko
1845, Pereiaslav
Translated by John Weir 

Information about visiting the museum: website, FB, VK

US-Ukraine partnership to help Ukraine diversify its energy sources

The 25th Anniversary of U.S. – Ukrainian Diplomatic Relations — Projects That Change Ukraine

Posted by: Department of Energy Office, Kyiv, Ukraine

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Efforts to provide Ukraine with a nuclear fuel alternative to Russia’s TVEL – which had been a monopoly provider of VVER-1000 nuclear fuel – began in 1998 with the initiation of the Ukraine Nuclear Fuel Qualification Project (UNFQP).  The U.S. launched the project in response to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s decision to cancel the sale of Turboatom-produced turbines for Iran’s Bushehr NPP in 1998.  The UNFQP thereby expanded the U.S.-Ukraine nonproliferation partnership to include the enhancement of energy security for Ukraine.

Westinghouse fuel assembles as stored before loading at Zaporyzhya NPP
Westinghouse fuel assembles as stored before loading at Zaporyzhya NPP

The U.S. Government, through close cooperation between the Department of Energy and Department of State, contributed more than $70 million in Freedom Support Act funding to the UNFQP to develop a robust nuclear fuel technology base in Ukraine and to diversify Ukraine’s nuclear energy supply.  Initially, the effort involved sharing technology and expertise in nuclear fuel design, reactor fuel design, and fuel and core licensing with Ukraine’s Center for Reactor Core Design in Kharkiv.  It then expanded with the competitive selection of Westinghouse to design, fabricate, and deliver six fuel lead test assemblies.  Ukraine’s nuclear regulator reviewed and approved the loading and operation of the fuel in Ukraine’s reactors, and the fuel successfully performed four cycles at Unit 3 of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant (SUNPP) from 2005-2009.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Westinghouse subsequently designed, fabricated, and delivered a reload batch with Ukraine-provided uranium, which received approvals from Ukrainian regulators and began operation in 2010.  Following a period with several challenges, Westinghouse and Energoatom agreed Westinghouse would modify its fuel for future use, and after testing at Westinghouse, the Ukrainian nuclear regulator approved the modified fuel in 2014 for expanded deployment.  Following this approval, Energoatom signed a contract in December 2014 for a significant expansion in fuel provision. Westinghouse fuel is now in use at South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Energoatom envisions using Westinghouse fuel at six of the country’s 15 reactors by the end of 2017.

This project singlehandedly delivered an alternative fuel provider to Russia’s TVEL, which has significantly enhanced Ukraine’s energy security and in turn its self-determination.

Entrepreneurship is Vital for the Future of Ukraine

Posted by: Chip Laitinen, Economic Counselor, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

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Last week we celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week, a time to recognize Ukrainian entrepreneurs and inspire new ones.  President Obama has made entrepreneurship a priority for his administration and at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Forum he called entrepreneurship the engine of growth that creates good-paying jobs, puts rising economies on the path to prosperity, and empowers people to come together and tackle our most pressing global problems, from climate change to poverty.


Startup founders are some of the most fearless people you will ever meet and share some important traits.  First, they don’t accept the world as it is, instead, when they see a problem they envision a solution and then set out to make it happen.  Another important trait is that they don’t cower under pressure.  Many entrepreneurs take on powerful, entrenched interests that have no intention of letting go of their old way of doing things, but no matter the challenges, entrepreneurs don’t back down.  Those traits should sound familiar, as they perfectly describe, the courageous Ukrainians who have envisioned a better future for their country and are striving to see that vision through.

President Barack Obama waves as he walks off the stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
President Barack Obama waves as he walks off the stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

That spirit is why I believe entrepreneurs continue to succeed in Ukraine, and are a key component  to the country’s economic revitalization.  Even during difficult economic times, entrepreneurs continue to create new companies, new technologies and new ways of doing business away from corruption and cronyism.  These new companies are helping Ukraine connect with the rest of the world economically and culturally, and most of all, are creating new, well-paying jobs that are the foundation of the development of a new middle class in Ukraine.  It’s imperative that the government works hard to provide the enabling support and environment for these startups to thrive, and that the financial sector and investors find innovative ways to provide access to capital so startups can grow.

Tech Expo Fun at America House, 2016
Tech Expo Fun at America House, 2016

Ukraine’s entrepreneurial success and future potential is based on its well educated workforce and connections to international markets.  The technology sector particularly stands out because so many of the world’s largest companies rely on Ukrainian IT professionals to keep their businesses operating at the highest levels.  These engineers, developers, programmers and other skilled and experienced workers offer a fantastic entrepreneurial resource.  Not only do they have experience working with the latest technologies, they also see the problems faced by consumers and businesses all over the world and can envision solutions.


Certainly, entrepreneurship is more than just coming up with an idea; it also involves developing a business plan, raising funding, assembling a team, creating a work culture and selling the product. This is why I’m proud that USAID supports entrepreneurship efforts like Kyiv Polytechnic University’s Sikorsky challenge.  Participants complete a rigorous six week start up school to hone their idea and find areas where they will need support.  The program culminates with a pitch day for investors.  We are also proud to partner with TechStars on a Startup Weekend held at America House where people of any age or background can come together to create a new business idea. We at the U.S. Embassy are proud to stand with Ukraine and to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs who are seeking to create new and innovative businesses that will power Ukraine’s development.

U.S. Company Earth Networks Partners with Ukraine Hydrometeorology Institute to Provide Real-time Weather Warnings Across Ukraine on a 24/7 Basis

Posted by: Michele Smith, Commercial Officer, Olena Stephanska, Senior Commercial Specialist, and Anatoliy Sakhno, Commercial Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine

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On October 25 in Kyiv, a U.S. company Earth Networks (EN) and its partner, the Ukraine Hydrometeorology Institute (UHMI) publicly launched their nationwide Severe Weather Early Warning System (EWS) for Ukraine.  The EWS provides real-time warning of heavy rains, high winds, and hail, which is used by government agencies and customers like civil aviation authorities, to save lives.

AP Photo
AP Photo


In addition to its sensors in Ukraine, EN has more than 10,000 additional sensors worldwide.  EN integrates the information provided by these sensors with information from the U.S. National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Organization.  This extensive weather network – in conjunction with proprietary forecasting algorithms and technology – provides the most current conditions, refreshed every few minutes, from more than 2.6 million locations worldwide.


U.S.-Ukrainian cooperation in this area began in early 2016 when EN and UHMI signed a cooperation agreement.  Immediately following this, EN installed 12 sensors in Ukraine, allowing EN and UHMI to launch their Severe Weather Early Warning System in July.  Moving forward, UHMI and EN plan to jointly market and sell their weather data services to businesses and government organizations.  Ukraine’s civil aviation authority is already a customer and EN and UHMI plan to bring more clients into the network over the next several years.

To demonstrate the full capability and value of their meteorological data services, EN, UMHI, and the U.S. Commercial Service in Kyiv recently conducted a seminar for prospective end-users.  George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine welcomed over 30 attendees from both the government and private sectors including; the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, the Ukrainian State Air Traffic Authority, as well as multiple airports, energy companies, gas station chains, and agricultural companies.

AP Photo
AP Photo

In his opening remarks, Mr. Kent underscored the importance of the EN-UMHI partnership:  “Today’s event is not only a seminar about a useful technology with life-saving public benefits, but it is also about international collaboration.  This system is the product of collaboration between two innovative companies – Earth Networks from the United States and the Ukrainian Hydro-Meteorology Institute.”

Indeed, the EN-UHMI partnership represents another step for Ukraine towards global integration, given that various mission-critical organizations in the U.S. and EU are already part of this global network.  For example, EN’s global network, which now includes Ukraine, also includes countries such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Georgia, Turkey, and Israel.

GE Locomotive Drives the Train of Deepening Commercial Relationships between the U.S. and Ukraine

Posted by: Michele Smith and Anatoliy Sakhno, U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine

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This fall Ukraine kicked-off the modernization of its locomotive and wagon fleet by testing General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive. In late September, George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, participated in a press conference held by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Ukrzaliznytsya at Kyiv’s central train station to unveil the new locomotive to the public.  According to Kent, “This new engine is a reminder of Ukraine’s recovering economy, an economy that is rebounding in nearly every sector after two difficult years.”  Kent also said that he hoped that after GE demonstrates its value with its locomotive that the partnership will between GE and Ukraine would expand into many other areas.

George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and GE Locomotive
George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and GE Locomotive

GE hopes that this demonstration project will show to Ukrzaliznytsya and the country the benefits of modernizing its locomotive fleet with U.S. technology.  Ukrzaliznytsya will test GE’s engine for four months and use data collected during this period to evaluate the efficiency and cost savings that this new locomotive could bring to Ukraine.  Initial tests are already showing that the new engine uses 20 to 30 percent less fuel and hauls twice as much as the locomotives Ukraine currently uses.  Maxat Kabashev, Vice President of Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), also participated in the conference and confirmed that since KTZ began using GE locomotives, it has saved over $300 million in fuel costs in five years and has set up a GE production plant in Almaty to produce locomotives.

General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive
General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive

In addition to serving as a symbol of economic recovery and as proof of the cost savings Ukraine could enjoy through modernization, this demonstration project also symbolizes a step forward in the creation of commercial relationships between U.S. and Ukrainian companies.  Though GE has cooperated for years with the governments of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, this demonstration project is GE’s first major step into the Ukrainian market.  The Government of Ukraine and the U.S. Embassy are fully supportive of this cooperation given the scale and urgency of rail modernization in Ukraine.

General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive
General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive

According to the Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, Volodymyr Omelyan, after GE demonstrates its value with this locomotive, this partnership is likely to expand into many other areas.  “We believe that the locomotive presented by General Electric will be a success. I would like that General Electric was not only a strategic partner of the Olympic Games but a strategic partner of Ukraine. The corporation has all facilities for this. There are enough directions for cooperation: railways, aviation, other spheres where this corporation has proved to be a global leader,” the Minister Omelyan said.

RELO Kyiv’s 8 Best Free Sites for Learning English Online

Posted by: John Silver, the Head of the Regional English Language Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

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President Petro Poroshenko declared 2016 the Year of English Language. It is hard to overestimate the importance of learning English in our ever-globalized world. For that reason, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine has supported the Go Global initiative aimed to promote foreign languages learning in Ukraine and raise awareness of opportunities that foreign languages provide. The easiest and most accessible way to learn English is to do so online. Upon numerous requests, I’d like to share my list of free sites for learning English online.

  1. American English

american-englishAmerican English is a resource for teaching and learning about American English language and culture. This website provides a variety of engaging materials and resources for teachers’ professional development and for students in the classroom. Both teachers and students will find new ways to practice English and learn more about the United States.

  1. American English at State Facebook

american-english аи
American English at State is a Facebook page that provides English language learning materials for both learners and teachers. Our American English website is a resource center for teaching and learning about American English language and culture. The website provides a variety of engaging materials and resources for teachers’ professional development and for students in the classroom.

  1. Voice of America Learning English

voice-of-america-learning-englishLearning English is VOA’s multimedia source of news and information for millions of English learners worldwide. Audio programs and captioned videos are written using vocabulary at the intermediate and upper-beginner level. Programs are read one-third slower than normal English speed. Online texts, MP3s and podcasts let people read, listen and learn American English and much more.

  1. Duolingo

duolingoLearning with Duolingo is fun! Earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and level up. Bite-sized lessons are effective and proven to work!

  1. American English Mobile App

american-english-mobile-appTeachers and students: build English skills anytime, anywhere on your mobile phone with the free American English app! It works with almost any phone and uses very little data. Get audiobooks, e-books, music, the Trace Word Soup game, dictionary and translation tools, and more.

  1. BBC Learning English

bbc-learning-englishBBC Learning English provides multimedia English language teaching materials to meet learners’ needs

  1. British Council Learn English

british-council-learn-englishThere are hundreds of high-quality resources to help improve your English. Read about how to use the site, take a level test or find a face-to-face or online course in your country.

  1. Lang-8

lang-8A new language learning platform where native speakers correct what you write.

Education in the United States: Then and Now

Posted by: Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

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On the first day of school in Ukraine, we asked Cultural Affairs Officer Shari Bistransky to talk about education in the US and share her experience about the first day of school.

Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv
Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

The United States doesn’t have a Ministry of Education or a national education policy. The US education system is set up as state system rather than a national system. There normally is a state structure, a Department of Education or an Office of Education, where they make decisions about curriculum, textbooks, and things like that. We do have regulations nationwide that say the curriculum has to meet certain requirements.

We start at kindergarten at 5 years old. Now it is really common to have organized pre-school, and many kids start at school at 3-4 years old learning letters, learning songs, and counting. So, then there’s primary school that goes from 5 till about 11, then middle school, and then our traditional high school, which goes for 4 additional years, which is 9th grade through 12th grade. And then off to college.

I remember my first day of school as if it were yesterday. I was 5 years old. I was wearing a purple dress. I had on white lace tights I was so proud of. I had my hair cut fresh and brushed. I had a little sign that was cut in green construction paper that had my name on it, my address, and my telephone number. Because we had a school bussing system, and for the first day of school for the new kindergarteners you wanted to make sure to be labeled, so that people could get you where you needed to go. And I could hear the bus, and I was so excited, and I ran out the front door, and I ran to the bus… and I fell. I tripped on the step of the bus, went down hard, broke the skin on both knees, tore my white stockings, and I was injured so severely that there was blood pouring down both of my legs. The bus monitor picked me up, put me on a seat, and the first thing I saw at school on my first day was the nurse. Terrible story. (Laughing)

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

School year in the US starts in August. When I went to school, it was traditional for school to start on the first Tuesday after Labor Day (the first Monday in September).  But now with more and more schools in the States going to a year-long school calendar or wanting to fit in more vacation during the school year, a longer break at New Year for example, or a spring break, school start times are getting earlier and earlier and earlier.

On average, kids have a class three hours a week. When I was in middle school, the school day was organized in seven 50-minute classes and with a 5-minute break between, so that you had every class that you took every day. So in high school it was Math, English, Grammar and Composition, English Literature, Science, Foreign language (I studied French in high school), and then the seventh period would be some kind of arts, whether it was choir or instrumental music, or drama. What I see now in schools where my kids are and where their friends are, they’ve gotten away from every class every day, and have done more like a class three hours a week or four hours a week, and what this allows is for longer class periods and lab time for sciences.

Speaking about the financial side of school, public school in the United States in all districts is free of charge. Public schools are supported by local property taxes. School is required, and school is provided. There are private schools that you can send your child to, but they are generally expensive and the government will not provide that for you.

One of the greatest things about the university education is the opportunity to meet people you disagree with. When you are in school, when you are young, you hang out with your friends, you’ve got your peer group, the people like you. In university, that all kind of goes away, and you have to learn to make your way with people who are not like you. That is huge.

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

There is a lot of freedom at university. University students actually do not have to say what degree they are pursuing until the third year of university education. You will, in your first two years, take Math, Science, Psychology, and History, etc. Only once you do that, then you start on the course work for your specialty, your major, your minor – what your main course of study is and then your secondary course of study. Within that major and that minor, there are requirements that you have to fulfill. My sister, who did s pre-medical school program, and I, who studied international relations, we did the same first two years more or less, but then she did a lot more in Organic Chemistry, Heavy math, Biology, and I am taking History and Politics. Once you finish those liberal education requirements, there is still a lot of space, especially in your last two years, to design and customize your program to your interests. You have to be careful when you do it though, because if, at the end you’ve turned in your transcript, you’ve called your mom and dad, you’re like “I’m gonna graduate”, and then the dean says, “Hmm, you didn’t take Introduction to Sociology, and that was a requirement in your first year. Guess what, we won’t give you a diploma till you take that class.” Surprise!

The Public Affairs Section of the Embassy administers and supports a wide range of exchange programs. Many people will recognize the name of the Fulbright exchange program, which is one of our oldest. We celebrate 70 years this year. In the course of my work, we are often meeting with teachers at universities, language teachers, rectors. We ask them to help us publicize our network like EducationUSA, which helps students interested in studying in the United States find out how to do that. Many students, for example, are surprised that the process of applying for U.S. university takes about 18 months. We are always interested in helping people grow those networks. The education beat is one of the best things about the office that we work in here, because it helps us stay in touch not only with the education system of a country but also with students, because students really are where it’s at. It’s where the country is going. Students are going to take you there.