Local Kyiv School Gets Well Deserved Facelift

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!

Three Years, Two Partner Nations, One Mission

Posted by: EUCOM

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By Master Sgt. Charles D. Larkin, USAF
United States European Command
Stuttgart, Germany, May 5, 2015

Three years ago, United States European Command (EUCOM) consolidated several military installations located throughout Europe. As installations closed and buildings were emptied, office furniture, computers, beds, and other furniture and equipment piled up in warehouses, like the one operated by the US-Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Italy.

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U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine speaks at an inauguration ceremony for the Vinnytsia Community Education Center

Thanks to the efforts of EUCOM and DSCA, some of those items were recently given a new home in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine, EUCOM officials, and members of local Ukrainian government and non-government organizations gathered at the brand-new Vinnytsia Community Education Center for an inauguration ceremony on April 27.

The project began in 2012 as a request from a local non-government organization. They wanted a resource center in their area to focus on public health and youth education for socially-vulnerable individuals. Additionally, the community center also addresses the problems of internal displaced persons (IDP) and human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation — often referred to as a modern-day form of slavery — is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity in Ukraine. Trafficking of women and children for this type of exploitation is a serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of victims and their families. Continue reading “Three Years, Two Partner Nations, One Mission”

Holiday Cheer All Year Round

Posted by: Joye Davis-Kirchner, Consular Officer

As the year ends and we find ourselves between Western and Eastern Christmas, it is only normal to look back at the past twelve months and take stock.  In the past year, I had the honor to work with an incredible staff of Americans and Ukrainians as the Immigrant Visa Unit Chief in the Embassy’s Consular Section.  In the job, probably the most important single thing I did was to help Ukrainian orphan children to realize their dream of having a family and to help American families in their dream of having children.  It was like Christmas all year round.

While people may disagree about many things, it’s clear that the best thing for kids without parents is to become part of a family.  It’s best if this is through domestic adoption or foster care — Ukraine has done a great job of this — but that is not always possible.  Then international adoption, especially for special needs children who would otherwise remain in orphanages, can play an important role.  We Americans highlight this by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families each November, which is marked every year as Adoption Month in the U.S. 

During this year’s Adoption Month, Liliya Khlebnikova (our Ukrainian adoption expert) and I had the rare opportunity to represent the Embassy at the international conference “Ukraine Without Orphans” in Kyiv.  This conference brought together over 500 participants from Ukraine, the United States, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Belarus.  The theme of the very useful conference was “Touch a Child – Change the Future.”  Especially significant for me, besides having the opportunity to explain the Embassy’s role in supporting adoptions in a presentation for the participants, was to learn more about partnerships and networks serving children at risk both on the national and international levels.  I was deeply moved by the stories of older children and the children with special needs (Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc.), who had successfully found families through adoption.   

The Cornish Family

I was particularly impressed by Reece’s Rainbow.  This organization specializes in finding families for children with special needs.   Meredith and Michael Cornish, who are associated with Reece’s Rainbow, are some of the most remarkable people that I have met since arriving in Ukraine.  Meredith and Michael have six children, three – biological and three – adopted, with Down syndrome.  They are now adopting two more Ukrainian kids with Down syndrome.   In a meeting with Consular Section staff, they explained to us why families adopt children with HIV, blindness, arthrogryposis, spina bifida, fetal alcohol syndrome, or Down Syndrome.  Meredith and Michael also told us how these disabilities influence the adopted children and their new families.  

In addition to her duties at home and her work with the Reece’s Rainbow, Meredith Cornish has her own blog at http://www.mcornish.org, where she gives online advice to families who have adopted kids or have their own kids with Down syndrome.  If you want a first-hand view of special needs adoption, look no further.

Thanks to Meredith and Michael, and many other wonderful Ukrainians and Americans who work to find families for special needs orphans through international adoption, and the opportunity to facilitate their work, I felt a little bit like Santa Claus all year long.

Franklin Roosevelt, Murderball, and Free Internet Access: The Rights of the Disabled and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine

Posted by: Tim Standaert, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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Murderball. This is perhaps the most intriguing movie title I have run across in a long time, though you might be surprised at the content of this particular flick.

The documentary followed the trials and tribulations of the U.S. Men’s Wheelchair Rugby Team, who are in cutthroat competition with their archrivals, the Canadian National Team.  These are not shy, retiring wallflowers, but aggressive and skilled athletes who do want to “murder” their opponents.  I showed the film to a small group of students and university instructors on December 10th at the U.S. Embassy’s weekly movie night at the American Library at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.  We chose to show the critically acclaimed Murderball as part of our activities in celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The United Nations designated December 3rd as International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 1981 to promote respect for the rights of persons with disabilities, increase our understanding of disabilities and encourage inclusion of persons with disabilities, emphasizing the political, economic and social gains to be made through such inclusiveness.  Continue reading “Franklin Roosevelt, Murderball, and Free Internet Access: The Rights of the Disabled and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine”