An American in Ukraine: Reflections on the Anniversary of the Birth of Taras Shevchenko

Posted by: Pauletta Walsh, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017For the habitual voyager, arriving in a new country is the ultimate traveling experience.  The sights and smells, the vistas of fresh landscapes, the architecture, all officially announce an adventure has begun.  Diplomats may be some of the best explorers in history, from Ibn Battuta, to Machiavelli, and Benjamin Franklin.  They leave their homeland in the service of their leaders, and depart with a profound understanding of other citizens and cultures.

I arrived in Ukraine just in time for the New Year.  Bundled against the cold, I began my exploration of the city.  With encouragement from colleagues at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, I will blog about my discovery of Kyiv and Ukraine.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
On March 9, Ukrainians celebrated the 203rd Anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, the beloved poet, writer and civil activist who is often called the father of Ukrainian literature.  To mark the occasion, U.S. Embassy diplomats recorded some of Shevchenko’s verses. With an Embassy group that included Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her mother, Miss Nadia, I toured the Shevchenko Museum to discover more.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
The Taras Shevchenko Museum is located in Shevchenko’s beloved Kyiv in a mansion formerly owned by a wealthy sugar magnate.  This juxtaposition of housing the most comprehensive collection of artifacts, paintings and memorabilia from Shevchenko’s life, surrounded by such opulence is ironic and poignant.  For Ukrainians, Shevchenko is the premiere national hero.  Son of a serf, at once a novelist and a painter, a poet and a prisoner, Shevchenko was a celebrity and political figure, who finally returned home to the area near the town of Kaniv, to be buried after his death.  To a new generation of Ukrainians, those born after the Soviet era, raised with a unique identity, and who came of age in the era of EuroMaidan, Shevchenko’s dream of Ukrainian freedom resonates with renewed vigor.  The museum provides an opportunity for foreigners and natives alike to make his acquaintance and to draw lessons from his writings on the past and future of Ukraine.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017The museum is housed in one of the many beautiful buildings that grace the cobblestoned streets in the old city.  It opens on to a modern glass atrium, with ample room for a collection of modern art.  Progressing up the marble staircase to the second floor, I walked through room after room adorned with paintings, drawings, and books.  I learned of the Cossack history of Ukraine, and then was led step by step through the various stages of Shevchenko’s life.  Shevchenko’s life story is well known in Ukraine.  Born in 1814, Shevchenko grew up in poverty, was orphaned at the age of 11, and yet managed to acquire an education working as an apprentice to a teacher and deacon.  His early life was dictated by the whims of his masters, yet his time in Vilnius was productive in providing him with an artist’s training.  His subsequent travel with his master to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg changed his life.  Shevchenko was accepted to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and was able to study painting.  More importantly for the history of Ukrainian literature, he began to write poetry.  He also became acquainted with other Ukrainians diaspora artists, one who bought him his freedom in 1838.  In 1840, his first book of poetry, “Kobzar” was published.  This was the beginning of a new chapter, one that would bring him into conflict with the Russian Imperial family and others in the ruling class whose patronage he needed to survive.  Subsequently he penned poems in Ukrainian, where he was critical of the system of serfdom and of the regime of Tsar Nicholas I.  Shevchenko’s last prison sentence was serving six years at a penal colony in Novopetrovsk. On his release, he returned to St. Petersburg where he continued writing until his death at the age of 47 on March 10, 1861, seven days before the emancipation of the serfs.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017But what exactly did the Russian Empire fear?  I looked for those verses that resonated then as now, to understand the Ukrainian identity and their heart that longs for freedom.
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Taras Shevchenko
1845, Pereiaslav
Translated by John Weir 

Information about visiting the museum: website, FB, VK

World War II Memorial as a Symbol of Unity of the American People

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home.

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Following a national design competition, architect Friedrich St. Florian’s design concept was selected for the National World War II Memorial. Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain, it sits on the National Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Fifty-six granite pillars celebrate the unprecedented unity of the nation during WWII. Each state and territory from that period and the District of Columbia is represented by a pillar adorned with oak and wheat bronze wreaths and inscribed with its name; the pillars are arranged in the order of entry into the Union. The pillars are connected by a bronze sculpted rope that symbolizes the bonding of the nation.

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Two 43-foot pavilions serve as markers and entries on the north and south ends of the plaza. Inlayed on the floor of the pavilions are the WWII victory medal surrounded by the years “1941-1945” and the words “Victory on Land,” “Victory at Sea,” and “Victory in the Air.” These sculptural elements celebrate the victory won in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Memorial plaza and Rainbow Pool are the principal design features of the Memorial, unifying all other elements. Two flagpoles flying the American flag frame the ceremonial entrance at 17th Street. A series of 24 bronze bas-relief panels along the ceremonial entrance balustrades depict America’s war years, at home and overseas. Located at the 17th Street ceremonial entrance, the Announcement Stone of the Memorial says the following:

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.


The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Each of the 4,048 gold stars represents 100 Americans who died during the war
The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Each of the 4,048 gold stars represents 100 Americans who died during the war

The Memorial was funded primarily by private contributions. It received more than $197 million in cash and pledges. This total includes $16 million provided by the federal government. The memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Disobedience

Posted by: Eric A. Johnson, Public Affairs Officer

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MLKEach January, the American people pause to reflect on the life of one of our nation’s great leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  On January 20, the Embassy and all federal government offices in the United States will be closed to mark the birth of an American hero who used nonviolence and civil disobedience to fight against inequality and injustice.

In early 1963, African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama were engaged in coordinated street protests and marches in pursuit of equal civil and economic rights.  These demonstrations were held, despite a court ban on “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.”  As a leader of these demonstrations, Dr. King was arrested on April 3, 1963.  While in jail, he penned an open letter to the clergy to explain his actions.

Excerpts from his letter:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham.  But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.  I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.  It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps:  collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.”

“You are quite right in calling for negotiation.  Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action.  Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

“One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws:  just and unjust.  I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws.  One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.  I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”

“Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

“An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.”

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.  For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit.  Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade.  But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

“[The] great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is . . . [the] moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

“Injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.  The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro.  Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. . . .  I have not said to my people:  ‘Get rid of your discontent.’  Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.  And now this approach is being termed extremist.  But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.  Was not Jesus an extremist for love:  ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’  Was not Amos an extremist for justice:  ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’  Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel:  ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’  Was not Martin Luther an extremist:  ‘Here I stand;  I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’  And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’  And Abraham Lincoln:  ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’  And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . . ’ So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?  Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

The entire text of Dr. King’s letter can be found online.

Khersones: Preserving the Past to Respect the Future

Posted by: Rachel Atwood Mendiola, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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Ukraine’s long and diverse history is highlighted by the recent recognition of Khersones as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Joining numerous other UNESCO sites in Ukraine, Khersones stands in testimony not only to Ukraine’s ancient past, but also to the role of multiple civilizations, over many centuries, in this land.

Founded about 2500 years ago in the Sixth Century BC by Greek settlers from Heraclea Pontica, Khersones has a long history.  Its name comes from the Greek word, Chersonēsos, meaning “peninsula.”  It is located on what is known today as the Crimean Peninsula (in ancient times it was called Taurica), near present day Sevastopol on the shore of the Black Sea.

The Greek colony began as a (mostly) democratic society ruled by elected officials called archons and a council called the damiorgi.  As time passed, they became more oligarchic, with power concentrated in the hands of the archons.

After those first few hundred years, the colony changed hands numerous times.  In the late Second Century BC, it became a dependency of the Bosporan Kingdom.  Next, it was subject to Rome from the mid-First Century until the 370s AD when it was captured by the Huns.  In the early Middle Ages (sometime around the Fifth Century), Khersones became a Byzantine possession, withstood a siege by the Gӧktürks in 581, then fell to Kievan Rus in the 980s.  After the Fourth Crusade, which ended in 1204, the colony became dependent on the Empire of Trebizond before coming under Genoese control in the early 13th Century.  The armies of Nogain Khan sacked the city in 1299 and about a century later the colony was destroyed by Edigu and permanently abandoned.


Under Roman and Byzantine rule, Khersones was a popular place of exile for those who angered the current government.  In fact, it became the place of legends.  According to one famous story, after Vladimir the Great captured the colony, he agreed to evacuate the city only if the sister of Basil II (Byzantine Emperor from 976-1025) would be given to him in marriage.  However, in order to be able to marry the imperial princess, Vladimir had to be baptized into the Christian faith.

With such a long and interesting history, it is no surprise that Khersones has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The certificate was prepared in Paris, and presented at a ceremony in Sevastopol on September 20.  U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt congratulated everyone attending the ceremony with the following statement:

“On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I would like to congratulate the Khersones National Preserve and its staff for their impressive accomplishment in getting the cultural and historical monument entrusted to their care recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When the ‘Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora’ was inscribed on UNESCO’s List on June 23, it was a great day not just for Ukraine but for everyone in the world influenced by Classical Greek civilization where the idea of democracy was first born.

I’m also very pleased that the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin under the leadership of Centennial Professor of Classical Archeology Joseph Carter played such an important role in helping to put Khersones on the world map and bring it to UNESCO’s attention through their excavations, publications, and continued close cooperation with the Ukrainian staff at the National Preserve.  This is a wonderful example of what a successful U.S.-Ukrainian partnership can accomplish for the benefit of the entire world.

Last year, the U.S. Embassy was able to bring John Jameson – a Senior Archaeologist with the U.S. National Park Service who specializes in interpretive program development – to the Khersones National Preserve in order to explore new ways to make the site more accessible to the public while minimizing the impact this increased attention would bring.  I look forward to visiting Khersones myself soon and seeing what else we might be able to do to help you preserve your site for the world.

Earlier this month, I was thrilled to travel to Drohobych where I presented a U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation grant to the Church of St. George which was one of eight Ukrainian wooden churches inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List on the same day that you received the same great honor.  In the same way that we are helping save this amazing wooden masterpiece in the Carpathians for future generations, I look forward to working together with our Ukrainian and American partners to keep this Crimean architectural wonder alive and well for its next 2,500 years.  Congratulations!”

It is a great accomplishment that so many historical and cultural sites in Ukraine have received world-wide recognition.  Hopefully, the naming of Khersones as a UNESCO World Heritage site will support its preservation and increased research for the benefit of future generations.

The American Two-Party System

Posted by: Alamanda Gribbin, Political Office, Doris Hernandez, Political Intern

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Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President (1861–1865)
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President (1861–1865)

The first president of the United States, George Washington, warned about the negative repercussions that the formation of political parties could have for the newly founded nation and its democratic foundation.

Up until the American Revolution, fear of factionalism and political parties was deeply rooted in American political culture. Leaders such as Washington and Thomas Jefferson hoped their new government, founded on the Constitution, would be motivated instead by a common intent, a unity.

In his farewell address, Washington expressed fear that political parties “serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party.”

However, political parties did form in the United States, and they had their beginnings in Washington’s cabinet. One party, The Federalist Party, headed by Alexander Hamilton, favored a strong central government and close links between the government and business. There was also The Democratic-Republican Party, founded by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, which supported a limited role for central government and a more populist approach to government.

During the election of 1800, Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson, defeated Federalist candidate John Adams, notably becoming the first president to be elected as a representative of a political party.  Following this election the power of the Federalists began to slowly fade until it eventually disappeared entirely by the 1820s.

Andrew Jackson is typically considered the first Democratic President of the United States
Andrew Jackson is typically considered the first Democratic President of the United States

Despite the disappearance of the Federalist Party, the Democratic-Republican Party persisted but was split by factions. One group, the Jacksonian Democrats faction, led by war hero and future president Andrew Jackson, grew into the modern Democratic Party. Another faction, The Whig Party, emerged but was later supplanted by the anti-slavery Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican president.

Though the two-party system, Democratic and Republican Party, still persists in the United States today, the policies championed by each party have shifted as conditions and political agendas changed throughout history. Presidential elections since 1848 have featured solely Democratic or Republican competitive nominees each election. Yet there have been rare exceptions of third party nominees winning a significant percentage of votes.

Theodore Roosevelt, the founder of the Bull Moose Progressive Party
Theodore Roosevelt, the founder of the Bull Moose Progressive Party

Perhaps the most successful third party in American politics was the Bull Moose Party, also known as the Progressive Party.  In 1912, President Teddy Roosevelt lost the bid for the Republican nomination, and campaigned on a new, progressive party, called the Bull Moose Party.  Although he did not win the election, he managed to win over 27% of the vote, making him the most successful third-party candidate in history.

More recently, in 2000, Ralph Nadar, a consumer protection advocate, ran as a Green Party Candidate. He said he ran because no one in Washington would listen to his message.

Though he received a mere 2.74% of the vote; some say that this third party candidate cost candidate Al Gore the 2000 election.

While most other democratic nations have multi-party systems, the third parties that regularly pop up in American history are drowned out when a major party absorbs their ideas. These third parties are typically formed to address key issues that are neglected by the major parties.

As the two-party system remains prominent in U.S. politics, in his book, Is Democracy Possible Here?, American author Ronald Dworkin urged liberals and conservatives to realize that each team works for the same goal of a better nation and must collaborate in the most efficient manner.

Ambassador Pyatt’s Visit to the Honchar Museum: Showing Respect for Ukraine’s Vibrant Culture

Posted by: Larry Socha, Consular Officer

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Ambassador Pyatt Receives a Vyshyvanka as a Gift from the Honchar Museum
Ambassador Pyatt Receives a Vyshyvanka as a Gift from the Honchar Museum

“You cannot imagine a Ukrainian family without its rushnyk,” Petro Honchar told Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.  “Rich or poor, every family had one.”

Director Petro Honchar guided U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt through the Ukrainian Center of Folk Culture, Ivan Honchar Museum, on Friday afternoon, concluding the Ambassador’s first week in country.  Their lively conversation flowed through each room.  Under the watchful eyes of dozens of icons, the Director and Ambassador discussed religious imagery and the spirit represented by Cossack Mamay.  They compared the landscape styles of Ukrainian artists in the late 19th century and the motifs of artistic schools from the Ambassador’s native California.  They paused in front of a portrait of Ivan Honchar, whose private collection, spurned by Soviet authorities, became this great national treasure of independent Ukraine.  “Most museums in the Soviet period were based on class struggle.  Ivan had the idea that a museum could unite not divide,” Director Honchar explained.  “The idea of family became central to his vision.”

Almost immediately upon entering the museum, the visitor is welcomed by scores of black and white Ukrainian photographs, many over a century old.  Some are family portraits. Others depict wedding celebrations.  But one at eye level reflects back at the viewer, a mirror.  The visitor, wherever his roots lie, is invited to be Ukrainian, to understand Ukraine, from the very first moments of his visit.

Ambassador Pyatt was honored to make the Ivan Honchar Museum one of the first stops in his journey through Ukraine.  He recalled the long, rectangular cloth of the embroidered rushnyk which symbolizes a journey and the delicately stitched flowers and birds that represent Ukraine’s fertile land.  Ambassador Pyatt thanked Director Honchar for a wonderful introduction to the richness of Ukrainian cultural traditions and the country’s deep European history.  At the conclusion of the tour, Director Honchar presented Ambassador Pyatt with a vyshyvanka sewn in the colors of Acting Hetman Pavlo Polubotok – a Cossack political and military leader of left-bank Ukraine between 1722 and 1724.



U.S. Consulate in Odesa: A History of Partnership

Posted by: Emma Hutchins, Public Diplomacy Intern

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Plaque at the site of former U.S. Consulate in Odesa
Plaque at the site of former U.S. Consulate in Odesa

In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote of the bustling port city Odesa, “I have not felt so much at home for a long time as I did when I ‘raised the hill’ and stood in Odesa for the first time.” On Tuesday June 18, Ambassador Tefft returned to the city about which Twain spoke so glowingly, to join local government officials of Odesa and a Raytheon representative in unveiling a plaque honoring the opening of the first U.S. Consulate in Odesa in 1830 (Raytheon donated the plaque).

Designated as a porto franco, or “free port,” in 1819, Odesa offered numerous opportunities to develop trade relationships and was positioned as an ideal candidate for joining the growing number of global cities that held U.S. Consulates. The provisions for such consulates were outlined in an April 14, 1792, act of U.S. Congress in hopes of promoting U.S. commercial opportunities abroad and providing support for American sailors throughout the world. Consequently, many of the earliest consulates were directed by prominent businessmen who, although they were unpaid and not required to hold U.S citizenship, generally had strong business interests and strategic networks in their regions.

Plaque Ceremony at the site of former U.S. Consulate in Odesa
Plaque Ceremony at the site of former U.S. Consulate in Odesa

In response to Odesa’s growing commercial potential, U.S. President Andrew Jackson appointed Charles Rhind, a prosperous New York merchant, to both spearhead the new Consulate in Odesa and help negotiate a treaty with the Ottoman Empire to expand trade access for American ships in the region. Both of Rhind’s endeavors were successful, and after a brief term as Consul, Rhind relinquished his position to wealthy Greek businessman John Ralli. Ralli assumed duties as U.S. Consul for nearly thirty years until his death in 1859, thereby making him the longest-serving U.S. Consul at Odesa and a symbol of the United States’ commitment to fostering international trade with Odesa.

For the rest of the 19thcentury and up until 1918, when the beginning of the Civil War in Russia and Ukraine prompted the U.S. to withdraw its presence from Odesa, the U.S. Consulate continued to encourage exchange between U.S. merchants and local traders. While the official U.S. Consulate in Odesa concluded its services in 1918, Ambassador Tefft and his predecessors over the past 21 years of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations have often visited Odesa to continue U.S. connections with the city and provide a reminder of the strong economic partnership between Americans and Ukrainians, which will hopefully continue to prosper in the future.