Odessa in June: Sea Breeze, Talented Children at Lastochka, and a Busy Schedule Make for a Wonderful Four Days in One of Ukraine’s Greatest Cities

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft 

Like most people, I like to think weekends are best when they offer time to relax with my family, but there are times when my job requires me to fill the time with a full schedule and travel and I do not mind. A wonderful example occurred June 3-7, when Mariella and I visited Odessa, one of my favorite cities in Ukraine.  This was my third time in the famed seaside town. Like last summer, the main purpose of the visit was to support the joint U.S.-Ukrainian naval exercises known as Sea Breeze, but our time was spent doing much more.  We had a very busy weekend, joining a group of Ambassadors for part of a program organized by the Ukrainian Directorate General for Services of Foreign Missions (GDIP).  For example, on Friday evening we were treated to a performance at the Odessa Opera House, which I have been told is a close architectural cousin of the opera in Vienna.  Mariella and I are both great fans of the ballet, and seeing Odessa’s young ballet stars up close was a wonderful experience.

The next morning, I joined the diplomatic corps in a call on the Governor and the Odessa Oblast Council.  We were briefed on investment plans for the Odessa region.  Later I had private meetings with Mayor Kostusev and Governor Matviychuk.  Both of them stressed the importance of investment in Ukraine and in the Odessa region.  This is a topic I work on closely, and I expressed some of our concerns about the investment climate, and about fighting corruption at all levels.  The Mayor and the Governor both agreed that these are important issues, and I am looking forward to working with them to help promote economic development in the Odessa region.

Later on Saturday I took a break from meetings for lunch with the illustrious conductor of the Odessa Philharmonic, Mr. Hobart Earle and his wife.  Mr. Earle has been in Odessa for nearly two decades, but is in fact an all-American boy.  I was very proud that one of my countrymen is contributing so significantly to the cultural scene in Odessa, and I hope that next time I am in the city I will get to see the orchestra in action.  After lunch, Mariella and I visited a local NGO called “Faith, Hope, and Love,” which works tirelessly on the problems of human trafficking and public health, with support from the USAID mission in Ukraine. Meeting all of these young people working there was a moving experience. Human trafficking is one of great shames of our time, and can only be defeated through the passionate work of volunteers like them.

On Sunday, we took an easy morning to do a bit of sightseeing, followed by a beautiful afternoon on a small cruise ship going up and down the Odessa coastline.  The trip was sponsored by our Ukrainian colleagues, and had just over thirty foreign ambassadors onboard. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the port, and the beautiful beaches along the shoreline. To finish my day in the only way that could make it even more delightful, I met with a group of bright, young Ukrainians in Odessa’s very welcoming “Kompot” restaurant on the famous Deribasovskaya Street. These young men and women were all alumni of the “FLEX” program, which gives students from Ukraine and other states of the former Soviet Union the opportunity to attend an American high school for one year. After a wide ranging and engaging conversation, one of the FLEX almumni interviewed me for Odessa’s dumskaya.net

Mariella and I began Monday with a visit to the Lastochka Tuberculosis Rehabilitation Center, where we participated in a dedication ceremony for the completion of a humanitarian assistance renovation project sponsored by the United States European Command (EUCOM) along with EUCOM’s Captain Gregory Zielinski. The ceremony included a ribbon-cutting for the new basketball court and short speeches by Lastochka director and chief doctor Grygorii Stepanchuk, Deputy Odessa Mayor Olena Pavlova, Capt. Zielinski, and me. After the Captain dunked the first basketball on the court, the children of the clinic performed a fantastic concert, with singing, dancing, and skits, before they in turn were entertained by the U.S. 6th Fleet band.

From there, I attended the official opening of the 2011 Sea Breeze exercise, featuring speeches by Admiral Viktor Maksymov, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Navy; Rear Admiral Kenneth “K.J.” Norton, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Resources, and Plans; Mykola Ilchenko, Deputy Head of the Odessa Mayoralty; and Vice-Admiral Igor Kabanenko, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Exercise Sea Breeze 2011, co-hosted by the Ukrainian and U.S. Navies, aims to improve maritime safety, security and stability in the Black Sea by enhancing the capabilities of Partnership for Peace (PFP) and Black Sea regional maritime security forces. Air, land and naval forces from 13 countries are participating in the largest multinational maritime exercise this year in the Black Sea from June 6 to June 18.  I then gave an interview to Odessa’s Novaya Odessa television channel.

In the evening, Mariella and I joined many of the participants in Sea Breeze, political and cultural leaders of Odessa, and others on the USS Anzio, a Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruiser based in Norfolk, Virginia, and assigned to the U.S. Second Fleet. The Anzio is named after the World War II amphibious assault on the beachhead at Anzio, Italy, on January 22, 1944, a military campaign of personal interest to me because my father was one of the American GIs who participated.  Captain John Dorey, the ship’s commanding officer, and his crew hosted a wonderful evening in the Odessa harbor which was a splendid way to finish our visit to the Pearl of the Black Sea. I am already looking forward to my next visit to Odessa.

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