Posted by: Tim Piergalski, Political Officer
I recently had the opportunity to visit Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine, with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft. Donetsk is a steel city, a Ukrainian Pittsburgh, which has benefitted from strong central government investment in its infrastructure. The city center’s roads are smooth, and we observed workers planting grass and flowers on medians, a great contrast to cash-strapped Kyiv. Donetsk lacks the historical buildings which dot the rest of Ukraine, having been founded in 1869 by Welshman John Hughes to establish coal mines and steel mills.
Ambassador Tefft went to Donetsk to take part in America Days, a multi-day celebration and exposition of American culture. It was interesting to hear the questions the students asked him at an education fair (visas are always on everyone’s mind!), and I learned, quite to my surprise, that students in Donetsk play American football. The Ambassador also opened a photo exhibit, which emphasized views of America as seen through Ukrainian eyes (and lenses). We met with the mayor and the governor, and what surprised me most was that a horde of journalists were present throughout both meetings, eagerly writing down and recording everything the Governor and Ambassador said to each other.
We also visited the site of a Peace Corps Volunteer who teaches at the Donetsk Institute of Tourism. The Ambassador took questions from the students, who showed off their impeccable knowledge of English. In the same vein, we visited two USAID-funded projects. The first project helps the Donetsk Court of Appeals improve the transparency of the judicial process. The chief judge couldn’t say enough about the improvements over the past few years, thanks in large part to USAID grant money and her partnership with a local NGO which conducted independent surveys of court users to determine whether they felt they got a fair shake at court. Perceptions of fairness are increasing, even among those who lost their case, and perception of corruption is decreasing. We also visited a tuberculosis hospital, which has halved the mortality rate from tuberculosis in Donetsk oblast over the past ten years since the hospital has been working with USAID. The
doctors and staff at the hospital had an obvious passion for their work that was evident when they told the Ambassador about the various projects that they were implementing. On the day of our visit, the hospital was being audited by the WHO to see whether it would become a WHO training site. All of these visits indicated how important our efforts are, and how a few small projects can make a big difference in the lives of many.
On the flight back, I collected my thoughts about the trip and realized just how much we had seen in under three days – we had 19 different events but hadn’t even come close to including everything we wanted. But, it left me yearning to see more of Donetsk, the Donbass region, and Ukraine and visit other places with stories to tell.