Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
On Sunday and Monday, I had the chance to return to Odesa – a cool, multicultural city on Ukraine’s coast with extraordinary potential. It was my first trip back since the fire at the Trade Unions Building, and I was eager to learn about the transformative change the new Oblast Administration has undertaken.
On Sunday afternoon, I took the advice of some of my Twitter followers and visited the shops and beaches of Arcadia City. It was great to see so many families out (and a lot of American flag t-shirts!) – but I promise you will never see me on the amazingly high water slide that has almost finished construction! I also took the chance to join the crowds of tourists and locals out walking on Deribasivska Street – one of Ukraine’s greatest people watching spots.
My Monday started with Ukrainian civil society. I wanted to hear the views of young, reform-minded leaders and learn more about their efforts to drive forward the positive change we all want to see for Ukraine.
From there, we went to the Governor’s office, where I underscored U.S. support for the Oblast Administration’s efforts to tackle the problems of corruption and governance that have been such an impediment to economic development in Odesa. I talked a lot with Governor Saakashvili about how the United States plans to support these efforts in the days and weeks ahead – providing trainers to help stand up a new patrol police, helping to form an Anti-Corruption Task Force inside the Oblast Administration, and supporting other initiatives to improve policing, root out corruption, and strengthen rule of law, including a new grants program for civil society groups.
I also welcomed the chance to visit the new public service hall – the focal point of the Oblast Administration’s efforts to create an atmosphere of transparency and establish practices that ensure a level playing field and guaranteed delivery for government services. The building’s sunny atrium reminded me of the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brandeis: sunlight is the best disinfectant. Everybody I’ve ever talked to in Ukraine has stories about the small-scale corruption that has infected the process of receiving government services. This new service center reinforces that government is meant to serve the interests of the citizens, and not the other way around. That’s the foundation that this initiative is being built on.
After meeting with the Mayor, and discussing his own efforts to support these anti-corruption efforts (which I applaud), I headed to the port, where I visited customs officials and a recently expanded grain handling facility. It reminded me of the huge untapped potential of this part of Ukraine. Every time I visit Odesa, I am reminded that it is a globally connected, cosmopolitan city. It should be a thriving gateway, not just for Ukraine’s maritime commerce, but really for all of central and eastern Europe. And I think it has the potential to re-emerge as a great global crossroads once again.
A highlight of my trip was the time I spent on-board the Sahaydachny, to pay my respects to Ukraine’s sailors on behalf of the U.S. Navy as they celebrated Ukraine’s Navy Day. The honor guard was terrific, I was moved as the band played the U.S. national anthem on the deck of the ship, and I am so very grateful for Admiral Hayduk’s hospitality.
Finally, I had the chance to visit with the members of the American Chamber of Commerce, where I previewed the U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum being held by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington next week.
I come away from this visit to Odesa with a sense of optimism. Most important to me is the sense I got from people from all over the Oblast — not just the Governor and his inner circle — but from a variety of people that there’s a willingness now to focus in a very serious way on the reform agenda, and an eagerness to partner with the international community.
But most important was the validation I heard from members of Ukrainian civil society. The belief among civil society is that this is not just window dressing, that this represents a real change in direction and change in tone by the Odesa authorities.
Everywhere I go in Ukraine I find an appetite for change, for getting rid of the corruption, for removing the barriers and obstacles to doing business that have had such an awful impact on this country over too many years. I said to the Governor that I was confident that as long as he drives forward the pace of reform, we will continue to see an active and visible presence from me and my colleagues. We see real opportunity here — we see change coming. And as long as Ukraine keeps delivering on the promise of reform, the United States will continue supporting it on its path toward a more democratic, prosperous, European future.