Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
At the end of last week, I visited Kharkiv, my first trip back since I was there last December. The winter snow may have been beautiful, but I have to say that the weather is a lot better in summer! And what I found was a city full of smart, motivated people who want to be part of a reforming, forward-looking Ukraine that is moving toward Europe.
I started off my visit by meeting with Governor Ihor Rainin. It was a real pleasure spending time with him, and I’m thrilled to have such a strong partner who’s deeply committed to fighting corruption and implementing real reform to make Kharkiv oblast an important part of a modern, European Ukraine.
From there, we both headed to the 7th Annual International Economic Forum, a great opportunity to bring together government and business, both local and international. I was especially glad to have the opportunity to finally meet and talk to local businessman Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, whose Premier Palace hotel was itself hosting the Forum. I was surprised and delighted to learn, when I talked to the head of the Kharkiv National University, that he had spent several months in my hometown of La Jolla (a center of research and development, like Kharkiv, with one of the highest concentrations of Nobel laureates) at the University of California San Diego. Governor Rainin and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov both gave very strong remarks about the need for ongoing reform, and I was very grateful for Minister Avakov’s kind words about United States assistance to Ukraine as it continues to implement the changes its people demanded on the Maidan and continue to demand today. As Minister Avakov said, the strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine is built on actions, not just words.
In my own remarks to the Forum (which you can read in full here), I emphasized Kharkiv’s position as a key regional center, well placed to serve both east and west, which can, and should, play a leading role in integrating Ukraine into the global economy. I also stressed the huge competitive advantage Kharkiv holds as a result of its vibrant IT sector and its workforce of highly skilled IT professionals. I had to mention U.S. projects we’re working on in Kharkiv, including our “Go Women” program supporting women entrepreneurs, our AgroInvest project on sunflower growing and harvesting, support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have sought refuge in Kharkiv. One project I’m especially proud of is the state-of-the-art Neutron Source Facility, which produces medical isotopes and which the United States has supported through $70 million in funding, a symbol of Kharkiv’s strong past, and future, in nuclear technology. And of course, I’m very excited about the Kharkiv Patrol Police project (more on this in a minute).
In our meetings and in his remarks to the Forum, I consistently heard from Governor Rainin and his advisors a strong resolve to move towards European institutions and standards as part of a united Ukraine, including embracing the decentralization that the central government has made a priority. Indeed, the Governor argued convincingly that there has been more progress on reform and anti-corruption in Kharkiv than any other oblast. One dramatic symbol of how fast Kharkiv is changing is that new Patrol Police, which was also the next stop on my Kharkiv tour.
Along with Minister Avakov and Governor Rainin, I visited the Police Academy at the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs, where the patrol police cadets for the city are still in training. The United States
has so far committed $15 million to supporting the Ukrainian government’s patrol police initiative. I was thrilled that police from my home state’s California Highway Patrol have been training these patrol police candidates (as well as Houston Police Department officers) and I was able to see the cadets in action during some “tactical demonstrations,” including some dramatic high-risk vehicle stops.
In talking to the cadets, many of whom left good jobs for the chance to help build their city’s future, I was struck by the look in these young men and women’s eyes: the hunger for serious, radical reform, which they’re counting on their government to deliver—and
for the international community to support. Their optimism and enthusiasm was infectious, and I wasn’t surprised to hear from Minister Avakov that this was one of the strongest groups of patrol police cadets he’s seen from across the country. It was incredibly inspiring to see these young people who have grabbed control of their future, and who are building the kind of Ukraine that its citizens have so longed to build – rule of law and European standards, just 20 minutes from the Russian border.
After the visit to the cadets, it was time for a more sobering meeting: with IDPs who have relocated to Kharkiv from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and who are being assisted by our USAID project partner Station Kharkiv. I made visiting Station Kharkiv a priority for my trip, because it’s critically important to focus on the difficult circumstances IDPs like the ones at Station Kharkiv find themselves in, and find ways to help. The people I met with were grateful for the assistance they’d received, and the warm welcome they’d gotten from the people of Kharkiv, but their stories were tragic: families ripped apart, their lives upended by an artificial war they certainly never asked for. I heard with concern their reports of a growing humanitarian catastrophe in occupied Donbas, of lawlessness and high prices for consumer goods on top of the danger of military conflict.
Like the cadets, and like everyone else I met with in Kharkiv, they too want to be part of a democratic, united, European Ukraine. And what was so exciting about Kharkiv was that, as much as anywhere else in the country, that’s exactly what people are building: new structures accountable to the Ukrainian people, governed by rule of law, used not to enrich or empower one family, but to build a better future for people’s children. And as I told the patrol police cadets, Ukraine is not alone in this: it has the support and the hopes of the government and the people of the United States of America.