Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Special Operations Forces Training, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, January 2016

Special Operations Forces Training, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, January 2016

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Lengyel, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), on his trip to Khmelnytskyi, where U.S. forces from the 10th Special Forces Group are training Ukrainian special operations forces as part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine.

I welcomed the chance to hear from Deputy Minister of Defense Dolgov and Ukrainian Special Operations Forces Commander Major General Luniov on the status of Ukraine’s special operations reform efforts, and to witness first-hand the classroom and field training U.S. and Allied special operations forces are providing Ukrainian special forces to enhance Ukraine’s capability to defend itself in the face of relentless Russian aggression.

Cyborgs Unit Patch

Cyborgs Unit Patch

At Khmelnitsky, U.S. special operations forces are providing training on a wide array of military specialties — medical, marksmanship, construction and demolition, communications, and technology.  I was incredibly impressed.  Ukraine’s new special operations recruits show great promise, and include many brave soldiers who’ve already served in the ATO, including one of the Cyborgs who had helped defend the Donetsk Airport.  I felt incredibly honored when he presented me with his unit patch.

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U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Ukrainian Special Operations Forces Commander Major General Luniov, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, January 2016

Our training at Khmelnytskyi is taking place at the invitation of the Ukrainian government, and reflects the commitment of the United States to help Ukraine build a professional, NATO-standard fighting force.  Since 2014, we have provided more than $266 million in equipment and training to help Ukrainian forces better monitor and secure their border, operate more safely and effectively, and defend their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

What I saw on my trip reaffirmed my confidence that the Ukrainian military is committed to moving forward with the process of reform — moving toward European institutions, a NATO-standard military, a NATO-standard special forces capability.  We’re very proud that the United States is part of that project.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch some of my trip highlights here.

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Lviv, January 2016

Lviv, January 2016

Happy New Year, everyone! I was especially lucky to spend my first week back in Ukraine celebrating Christmas in Lviv. Lviv is always beautiful, but the snow-covered churches and Rynok made this trip especially memorable.

As someone who’d never had the chance to visit Lviv during the holidays, I found the level of activity amazing. Thousands gathered in the Rynok, with long lines for ice skating and to climb the tower of the Administrative building.

Lviv, January 2016

Lviv, January 2016

It reminded me a lot of the big Christmas markets I remember from our time in Vienna.  A member of the Rada who joined me in walking around the old town introduced me to Ukrainians from all corners of the country — from Odesa, Slovyansk, Kyiv, and Kharkiv – who had gathered to celebrate in Lviv. It was a powerful demonstration of a united Ukraine.

Lviv, Dominican Church, January 2016

Lviv, Dominican Church, January 2016

I was moved to listen to Christmas carols in the Dominican Church, which would have been outlawed in the Stalin era, and enjoyed the many Vertep processions. Though the tradition of putting on Christmas plays is common across many countries, I didn’t realize how political the Vertep is, with its unique combination of humor, music, and irony.  Later in the evening, I had the rare opportunity to join Mayor Sadovyi, friends, and colleagues for a traditional family Christmas dinner, where I had my first chance to taste kutia. It was delicious! Given how sweet it is, I can understand how it is a once-a-year treat.

Each of these many Christmas traditions exemplifies the pride and creativity that are unique to Ukraine’s national character, and I was glad to share in them with so many Ukrainians united by family, friendship, and tradition.  It was a fitting start to what promises to be a historic year, and makes me even more optimistic about all that 2016 has in store for Ukraine.

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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This Thursday, we celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which is when American families come together to give thanks for the benefits that they have enjoyed through the year preceding, and to look ahead to the rest of the holiday season. Each year, across America, the train stations and airports are like the train stations and airports in Ukraine around the New Year. It’s by far the busiest travel day of the year in the United States, with people traveling great distances to get back to their families for the holiday.

And of course, as many of you will have seen in American movies, Thanksgiving is about food! Turkey (this is the most essential), cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie are all classic dishes of the traditional American Thanksgiving table. Everyone eats more than they should – it’s all part of the holiday spirit.

(And in case you missed it, you can watch me talking to “Snidanok” on 1+1 about American Thanksgiving traditions earlier this week here.

The Thanksgiving holiday has its roots in American history. Some 400 years ago, a group of “Pilgrims” left their homes in Europe and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of liberty and prosperity. In America, they found the friendship and kindness of the Native American Wampanoag people, who taught them how to harvest the bounty of a new world. Together, they shared a successful crop, and celebrated bonds of community and friendship during a time of great challenge and hardship.

The legacy of that first Thanksgiving has endured through times of war and of peace. During the American Revolution and the Civil War, days of thanksgiving drew Americans together in prayer and in the spirit that guides us to better days. And in each year since, our nation has paused to show our gratitude for our families, communities, and country. It’s a holiday that brings every American together.

This holiday season, we have much to be thankful for. We pay tribute to all those who defend our countries as members of the Armed Forces, as well as the brave heroes serving on Ukraine’s front lines in the east. We are deeply grateful for their service and their sacrifice. I want to give special thanks to the 300 or so soldiers of the 173rd Airborne, who will not be with their families at Thanksgiving, and instead will spend the holiday serving their nation and helping to work with our Ukrainian partners to develop Ukrainian’s capacity to defend its own sovereign territory.

Thanksgiving is also a time when Americans remember the less fortunate.  At shelters and soup kitchens, Americans give back to their communities, keeping in mind the important role that faith and charity played in helping our ancestors forge a new life rooted in freedom and opportunity.

You can watch President Obama’s Thanksgiving address here. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, but as President Obama has noted, the spirit of Thanksgiving is universal. It is found in small moments between strangers, reunions shared with friends and loved ones, and in quiet prayers for others.  Within the heart of America’s promise burns the inextinguishable belief that together we can advance our common prosperity – that we can build a more hopeful, more just, and more unified nation.

These are the very same values that Ukrainians fervently believe in and have been fighting for. This Thanksgiving week, let’s recall the shared values that unite our two countries, and resolve to strengthen the lasting ties between our peoples.

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Two years ago, on a cold November night, a simple post on Facebook by a young journalist sparked a series of events that culminated in Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity.

Earlier that same day, Ukraine’s President had rejected a historic free trade deal between Ukraine and the European Union, suddenly and unexpectedly reversing decades of Ukrainian movement toward Europe.

What brought thousands of people out onto Kyiv’s Maidan that night, and in the weeks that followed, was the Ukrainian people’s conviction that UKRAINE IS EUROPE, regardless of what the President decreed.

Ukrainians stood together to demand a future rooted in shared European values – in freedom, dignity, and the right to determine their own future;

Ukrainians stood together to demand a future rooted in shared European values – in freedom, dignity, and the right to determine their own future;

And to prove that Ukraine is, as Ukrainians say, the heart of Europe.

Looking at these pictures, you see why Ukrainians dubbed this the Euromaidan. Everywhere, you see European Union flags.  Everywhere, you see signs declaring confidently that “Ukraine is Europe.”

Two years later, as we commemorate the beginning of the Euromaidan, let’s rekindle that spirit:  that spirit of community,

Of purpose,

Of resolve.

And let’s stand with Ukrainians in their continuing desire to build a better, brighter, European future.

 

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

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Paralympian & adoptee from Ukraine Oksana Masters

Paralympian & adoptee from Ukraine Oksana Masters

Each year, in November, the United States observes National Adoption Month. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the importance of family, to celebrate the adoptive families that have opened their hearts and their homes to orphaned children, and to advocate for safe, stable homes for children in need of adoption around the world.

As Americans, we believe that children have the right to grow up in a family that loves and protects them.  It’s a value we and Ukrainians share, and why we were thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Oksana Masters, who was adopted from Ukraine by an American family 18 years ago, back to Kyiv just a few weeks ago.

Oksana Masters has met with Ukrainian wounded soldiers, Kyiv, October 2015

Oksana Masters has met with Ukrainian wounded soldiers, Kyiv, October 2015

Oksana’s story is truly remarkable. Born in Ukraine, with both of her legs damaged by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident, Oksana was adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage by U.S. parents when she was seven years old and began rowing at 13.  Today, at 26 years old, she’s a world class Paralympic rower and cross-country skier and a champion of the 2012 London summer and the 2014 Sochi winter games.

During her first trip back to her country of birth last month, Oksana visited an orphanage and a school for special needs children, and met with wounded soldiers and U.S. and Ukrainian adoptive families.  She became an instant local celebrity and now has two countries rooting for her as she prepares for the summer games in Brazil next year.

Oksana is a powerful example of someone whose life was permanently and positively affected by adoption, and we are grateful that during her short stay, she was able to raise awareness of adoption issues and promote the adoption of special needs children throughout the country.

Oksana Masters has visited Horodetskyy Children’s Home in Vorzel, Ukraine, October 2015

Oksana Masters has visited Horodetskyy Children’s Home in Vorzel, Ukraine, October 2015

This and every month, we want to see more children find loving families that will support them, encourage them, and help them reach their fullest potential.  That’s why we’re gratified by Ukraine’s efforts to join the Hague Convention on International Adoptions, and why we support Ukraine’s efforts to create a more transparent, secure, ethical adoption process that put the best interests of the child first.

This November, as we mark National Adoption Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to provide all children with every chance to reach their dreams and realize their highest aspirations.”

Learn more about Oksana Masters’ trip to Ukraine:

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Kyiv, October 26, 2015

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Kyiv, October 26, 2015

It was great to have Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in Ukraine this week, where she announced that that United States intends to provide another $1 billion dollar loan guarantee to Ukraine in 2015.

Since her previous visit 13 months ago, Ukraine’s government and people have stood firm in the face of enormous challenges, and have made notable progress:  foreign reserves have grown from $5 billion to $12 billion, industrial production has stabilized, agricultural exports are increasing, your currency has stabilized, and experts predict a return to overall economic growth in 2016. These are the returns on the hard but important reform progress that the Rada has made in conjunction with the Prime Minister and the President.

There’s still a long road ahead for Ukraine to reach its full economic potential, and to get there, Ukraine has to stay the course and continue to make meaningful progress on reform. That’s not only the key to maintaining the support of the international community in the near-term, it’s also absolutely critical to creating a climate where U.S. and other global companies like the ones that traveled with Secretary Pritzker — businesses like Cargill, Citibank, Dupont, Honeywell, NCH Capital, and Westinghouse – have the confidence to invest.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, American CEOs (Cargill, Citibank, Dupont, Honeywell, NCH Capital, and Westinghouse), U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Ukrainian Ministers, October 26, 2015

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, American CEOs (Cargill, Citibank, Dupont, Honeywell, NCH Capital, and Westinghouse), U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Ukrainian Ministers, October 26, 2015

Earlier this week, I explained to Voice of America in an interview that these companies are risk averse. “Money is a coward,” one of the CEOs traveling with Secretary Pritzker told the Prime Minister. They will want to see that reforms stick and the IMF conditions are complied with. They want to make sure that the environment is one where they’re taking a business risk, not other unknown risk. Only then will you see them bringing their resources, their technology, and their capital to the Ukrainian market.

Getting there requires that Ukraine tackle corruption, make its infrastructure more efficient and attractive for investors, reduce excessive regulations, raise the professionalism of its judiciary, better protect intellectual property, and improve its tax administration.

Of these, the number one impediment to faster investment by American companies in Ukraine is the problem of corruption. That’s why we’ve placed such an emphasis on the Prosecutor General’s Office. That’s why we’re so focused on the rapid implementation of the new framework for the anti-corruption prosecutors, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau – the NABU.  All of these are institutional measures to root out the pervasive corruption that has done so much to hold Ukraine back since its independence. It’s about creating an expectation that if you are a government official involved in stealing resources from the Ukrainian people, you will be held accountable. And it’s about changing the entire system, not just one individual or another.

United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, October 26, 2015

United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, October 26, 2015

Imagine if – instead of lining corrupt officials’ pockets – the resources being stolen from the Ukrainian people as a result of corruption were freed up and reinvested in Ukraine’s economy.  Imagine what those resources could do to fuel the development and broad-based prosperity the Ukrainian people want and deserve.

We know that these changes are hard. Not only for the Ukrainian government, but also the Ukrainian people. That’s why the proceeds of the loan guarantee Secretary Pritzker announced will be focused on helping the Ukrainian government protect those most vulnerable to the impact of the necessary economic adjustments for them to achieve the kind of reform that’s necessary.

As one of the American CEOs told the President and Prime Minister earlier this week, “Don’t blink. Keep it up.” Pressing ahead and accelerating the process of reform will benefit the people of Ukraine. And it’s an effort that the United States will continue to put all of its energy into supporting.

Posted by: Lyudmyla Kyrylenko, Office of Defense Cooperation

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IMG_5940For the students of School #168, a school dedicated to the integration of children with special needs, October 7, 2015 was not an ordinary day at school! On this date, approximately 600 kids assembled in the courtyard to witness a ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate their newly renovated school.  The event was attended by school staff as well as U.S. Military personnel which included Col. George Milton representing U.S. European Command (EUCOM), Mayor Vitali Klitschko and other distinguished guests.

The school has received a new façade which includes a mural of Taras Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian poet. It also had all of the windows replaced, the roof repaired, a new elevator installed, handicap railings installed in the hallways, updated plumbing and a fantastic new auditorium. The renovation was carried out by a local contractor, ACE, who has successfully conducted one of the largest scale humanitarian assistance renovation projects in Ukraine. The work was overseen by Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) and the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC). The school was winterized with new insulation which will help keep the school warm and dramatically improve energy savings, as well as quality of life and safety of the children.

IMG_5570The renovation costs exceeded $550,000 and were provided by EUCOM under its humanitarian assistance program. The local management and city authorities facilitated all required construction permits, arranged for additional internal renovations of the hallways and provided 2,000,000 hryvnias from the state budget to fund parts of the project not covered by the contract.

IMG_6521Obolon School #168 historically maintains a strong relationship with the U.S. Embassy within the “Access” program. The school itself partners with many national and international organizations that deal with inclusive education.  Representatives from various organizations were in attendance and brought gifts for the children. This project highlights how military officials and community leaders can work together, including international partnerships, public diplomacy, and civilian stability.

School #168, Before (2012) and After (2015)

School #168, Before (2012) and After (2015)

In his opening remarks, Milton noted that the ceremony was not only about the renovated facility, but what the school represents. He went on to say how the school represents the community and the very children it will serve.  In closing, he said that school #168 is about touching the lives of children and making their future brighter.

The United States Military Humanitarian Assistance projects are committed to the health, safety, and education of Ukrainian children and that doesn’t end after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The U.S. Military is investing in local communities and they plan to continue to support schools by delivering excess property to furnish renovated premises.

The U.S. Military is committed to giving back to communities and building a global partnership. This school is a perfect example of this commitment. It is through projects like this that communities are built!