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.

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”

United with Ukraine: Hope, Progress, and the Challenging Road Ahead

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In mid-September, I had the opportunity to travel to Ukraine to see firsthand the work that USAID is doing to support critical recovery and reform efforts. Not only did I return with a better understanding and appreciation of the programming we are implementing, but also was impressed by the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people facing the challenging road ahead.During my trip, I had the opportunity to travel to Dnipropetrovsk – only a couple of hundred miles from the conflict zone in the East where thousands of Ukrainians were driven from their homes by the battle between Ukrainian forces and Russia-supported separatists.At a visit to a Dnipropetrovsk center for internally displaced persons (IDPs), organized and run by volunteers, I was awestruck by the outpouring of support and the capacity of Ukrainians from all walks of life to contribute and assist their countrymen.

This center is providing food, clothing and temporary shelter to over 21,000 people pouring into Dnipropetrovsk from the neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I was able to meet Maria and her young daughter who were forced to leave their home in Horlivka, close to Donetsk and have been in  Dnipropetrovsk for a few weeks. While she told me that being displaced is difficult, she was very impressed with the reception provided in Dnipropetrovsk. Maria spends her days volunteering at the center and helping new arrivals.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander meets Lydia at the Dnipropetrovsk IDP Center. Lydia was forced to leave her home but hopes to return home soon. She is grateful for the support provided by Dopomoha Dnipra and the IDP Center. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID
USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander meets Lydia at the Dnipropetrovsk IDP Center. Lydia was forced to leave her home but hopes to return home soon. She is grateful for the support provided by Dopomoha Dnipra and the IDP Center. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

In early June, the center received around 100 people per day. Now, with more than 300 new arrivals per day, the center needs support.The United States Government, in coordination with the government of Ukraine, has responded to the need to help the roughly 271,000 people displaced by this conflict. This center, and others like it, will receive bedroom furniture and kitchen appliances for new arrivals with nowhere else to go. USAID is also developing plans to refurbish two floors of the center to shelter an additional 200 people.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander and Head of Dopomoha Dnipra Foundation Vladislav Makarov sign a Memorandum of Understanding by which USAID will provide funds to assist an additional 200 internally displaced persons. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID
USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander and Head of Dopomoha Dnipra Foundation Vladislav Makarov sign a Memorandum of Understanding by which USAID will provide funds to assist an additional 200 internally displaced persons. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

During Ukraine’s Maidan movement, thousands took a stand against corruption and government abuse to demand a free and democratic Ukraine. Throughout my trip, it became evident that the Ukrainian people are eager to contribute to their new government’s efforts. At one meeting, I entered a room packed with dozens of civil society representatives, many of whom we support to build their organizations’ capacity to advocate for and oversee reform efforts in decentralization, transparency, and health. Not only is their passion and dedication working to hold the government accountable, but many are also working to improve the humanitarian situation in the East by helping the government care for IDPs and even feeding and clothing soldiers. They are truly continuing to fight for the dignity that started on the Maidan and are one of the main reasons I’m hopeful about Ukraine’s future.

Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Valeria Lutkovska (left) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander attend the launch of a USAID human rights project in Kyiv. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID
Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Valeria Lutkovska (left) and USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Paige Alexander attend the launch of a USAID human rights project in Kyiv. / Roman Woronowycz, USAID

Although the Government was not able to pass an anti-corruption bill on September 16th, key officials remain committed to paving the way for a new Ukraine. I had the honor to meet with newly elected Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klychko – some of you might remember Mr. Klychko, who for years reigned as heavyweight boxing champion of the world before entering the Ukrainian political ring. Mr. Klychko is pushing for major reforms in this city of 4 million to address waste and corruption. USAID is redoubling its efforts to partner with the City on its anti-corruption agenda, especially on e-governance, where USAID has recently hired an advisor to assist the city, the Presidential Administration, and the Ministry of Regional Development.

Looking forward, the U.S. Government remains committed to supporting Ukraine in both the short and long term as its leaders make the difficult sacrifices required to build the stable, democratic, and prosperous country its people deserve.

During President Poroshenko’s visit on September 18th, President Obama announced a new package of assistance totaling $53 million and has requested an additional $45 million from Congress in the next fiscal year to support Ukraine. The U.S. Government has provided $291 million in critical assistance this year as well as a $1 billion loan guarantee in May.

USAID, as part of a U.S. Government interagency team, is working closely with local partners and international donors to deliver immediate support to meet Ukraine’s most urgent areas of need. Together, we can help get relief to IDPs and provide humanitarian assistance to the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine.

USAID is making every effort to help Ukraine prepare for the challenges presented by the coming winter, replacing damaged windows to make homes habitable in the cold, and working with the electrical system managers to reduce the dangers of black-outs because of the fuel shortage. We are gearing up to assist in next month’s parliamentary elections to help ensure that the voices of all Ukrainians are heard and represented.

While these pressing needs are being addressed, USAID will continue to help Ukraine make important reforms that are necessary to end corruption, decentralize power, and reform its constitution.

In the longer term, USAID continues to work with the Ukrainian Government to support a prosperous Ukraine, with a stable economy, more productive farms, and greater energy efficiency.

In recent months Ukraine has made great strides in many areas. The Ukrainian Parliament unanimously passed the Association Agreement with the European Union, committing Ukraine to economic, judicial and financial reforms in line with European Union policies and legislation. Ukraine has fulfilled several steps of the Minsk ceasefire agreements necessary to stop the loss of life in Eastern Ukraine. A free and fair presidential election was held in May and the country now prepares for historic parliamentary elections.

Despite these achievements, serious challenges remain.

Even while fighting to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and responding to the pressing needs of its citizens in the short-term, the Ukrainian government cannot forget the message of the Maidan and must follow through on its commitments to fighting corruption, improve the rule of law, and build the transparency and accountability that they promised.

Ukraine is at a critical juncture and if history is any indicator, there is a limited window of time for the Ukrainian Government to make good on these commitments. Only through the passing and implementation of challenging reforms, will Ukraine be successful in the long road ahead. The United States, including USAID, look forward to remaining a strong and committed partner in this journey.

Inmate Counseling and Better Policies Key to Reducing Risky Behavior

Posted by: Mark Breda, U. S.  Agency for International Development (USAID/Ukraine)

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DSC_0279It is New Year’s Eve at a prison in Ukraine and men stand around in a large cell, sharing a single blunt, filthy syringe as they mutilate their arms to inject drugs. “The scene is typical of Ukrainian prisons,” explained an ex-inmate who wished to remain unnamed.

In Ukraine, prison inmates often participate in risky behaviors that contribute to the spread of HIV. Some prisoners use old syringes over and over. Others manufacture their own injecting tools using pens and plastic tubes. Still others tattoo their bodies using non-sterile instruments or have unprotected sex with fellow inmates or visitors.

A recent USG funded survey of 1,300 prison inmates shows that HIV prevalence among inmates is more than 13 percent (10 percent among men and 33 percent among women), 20 times higher than in the general population. Forty-four percent of those surveyed reported injecting drugs during their lives and 17 percent admitted using drugs while in prison.

The state penitentiary service in Ukraine has been slow to implement Ukraine’s National AIDS policies.  Only 60 of Ukraine’s 183 prisons receive HIV/AIDS treatment supplies.  Poor prison conditions and abusive practices by prison staff increase inmate vulnerability to infection and sometimes obstruct treatment for HIV positive prisoners.  Harm reduction services such as syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy, and even HIV testing are either not available or offered inconsistently.

After leaving prison, injecting drug users face challenges that may lead them to transmit HIV; many have no home, no job, and poor knowledge of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

USG is partnering with the government of Ukraine and other international donors to address these tough issues with a two-pronged approach, and things are slowing beginning to change.

DSC_0880First, USG’s Project Start is collaborating with Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice to implement a HIV/STI/Hepatitis C risk-reduction program for inmates who are soon to be released. It begins two months before they leave prison and continues for three months after their release. The program includes seven one-on-one sessions with each client, providing a range of counseling and prevention strategies tailored to each individual.

Second, USG’s PLEDGE Project, implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is promoting systemic change in Ukraine’s penitentiaries by advocating new harm-reduction policies through Ukraine’s legislature and directly with prison authorities.

Through USG efforts on the legislative side, a Joint Order for the treatment of detained persons was recently created with Ukraine’s Ministries of Health, Interior, and Justice.  Also with USG support, Ukraine developed and approved a comprehensive National Anti-Drug Strategy. The strategy demonstrates a shift from previously repressive measures to a more human-rights-based approach for people who inject drugs, promoting increased coverage and accessibility for syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy and integrated services to address HIV/TB, Hepatitis C, and other related diseases.

Finally, USG, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS, has developed comprehensive HIV services for pilot prisons, including education about drug use for prisoners and prison staff.

This past July Serhiy Zinchenko, head of the Ukraine State Penitentiary Service Personnel Department, expressed the government’s new found support for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS when he stated “We now understand the need to improve the situation in this sphere. It is important to learn international standards for treatment of prisoners, in particular related to their right to health care.”

Community Service and Volunteerism in Ukraine: Supporting Children with Special Needs

Ambassador Pyatt meets with Nadia NGO representatives
Ambassador Pyatt meets with Nadiya NGO representatives

Posted by: Lisa Steinhauer, U.S. Peace Corps Community Development Volunteer (Drohobych, L’vivska Oblast)

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The United States is associated with many positive emotions at Nadiya, an NGO focusing on children and youth with special needs located in Drohobych, L’vivska Oblast.  The organization, in operation since 1991, has received various sources of support from U.S. grants as well humanitarian assistance over the years.  In June 2012, the NGO’s relationship with the United States was strengthened further when I arrived as the organization’s first U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.

Ambassador Pyatt meets with Nadia NGO representatives
Ambassador Pyatt meets with Nadiya NGO representatives

Peace Corps has given both Nadiya and me an exciting opportunity to work together on local community development projects while participating in a cultural exchange program.  Since arriving in Drohobych, I have been overwhelmed with the hospitality and openness of my organization and community.  People consistently take the time to genuinely listen to and understand what I have to say, even with my broken Ukrainian.  They have accepted me into their lives, up to the point that it is not uncommon for me to hear myself referred to as “наша Ліза” (our Lisa).  They even go as far as declaring our organization an extension of the United States on U.S. Holidays as a way for us to celebrate American culture together.

Ambassador Pyatt with Nadia NGO representatives
Ambassador Pyatt with Nadiya NGO representatives

Needless to say, when Nadiya found out that the new U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt would be coming for a visit, the mood was jovial.  Around 20 of Nadiya’s youth with special needs, volunteers, and parents anxiously waited for Ambassador Pyatt outside the building on that Monday morning.  We had practiced saying “Welcome to Nadiya” in English several times before his arrival and it was a proud moment when everyone welcomed the Ambassador in unison.

Ambassador Pyatt graciously listened to information about our projects over the past year, made possible through U.S. support, and congratulated us on our successes.  He then enjoyed a brief tour of our facility and a cup of tea with our youth and volunteers.  Everyone was really encouraged to hear so many positive remarks from the Ambassador. People cannot stop talking about his visit to Nadiya.

From all of us in Drohobych, we would like to say thank you, Ambassador Pyatt, for taking the time to see us at Nadiya!  I am sure this day will be remembered for years to come.

Forest Fairytale: How the U.S. Military Transformed a Starychi Preschool

Posted by: Emma Hutchins, Public Affairs Intern and Major Sven Olson, Bilateral Affairs Officer

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U.S. Military European Command Transforms Starychi Preschool - Photo with Ambassador Tefft
U.S. Military European Command Transforms Starychi Preschool – Group Photo with Ambassador Tefft

While on an official visit to Moscow in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama remarked, “[By] mobilizing and organizing and changing people’s hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape.” On July 17, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) translated President Obama’s wise words into action, as they celebrated the completion of a Humanitarian Assistance renovation project at a local school in the village of Starychi in the region of Lviv.

This summer’s project builds upon the success of the groundbreaking ceremony at Starychi’s Preschool last July, when the U.S. Military prepared for the upcoming renovations, and ROTC cadets and local Ukrainians worked on joint volunteer projects around the school. Since then, the European Command (EUCOM) Civic Engagement Branch Humanitarian Assistance Program has funded the installation of a new thermal façade, new windows, new entrance steps (including a terrace and canopy), indoor toilets, kitchenettes, and the renovation of six outdoor gazebos.  The EUCOM team also brought along a U.S. Embassy photographer, allowing us to capture and share the energy and emotion of the celebration.

U.S. Military European Command Transforms Starychi Preschool
U.S. Military European Command Transforms Starychi Preschool – ROTS Cadets Talk to Kids

When the school’s Director, Lubov Kmilyovska, expressed her gratitude, she referred to her newly renovated school as a “forest fairytale,” and the parents’ community noted that the facility had become a beautiful second home for their children. The completed project dramatically improves energy savings, the winterization of the preschool, and the safety and quality of life for children and teachers, as the persistent danger presented by falling stones from the old façade and deteriorating play areas has now been eliminated.

The Starychi Preschool was a particularly fitting location for a Humanitarian Assistance project, as the village maintains a strong relationship with the International Security and Peacekeeping Center (ISPC), and the school community is a close partner with the locally based Ukrainian military unit. In fact, the school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled to coincide with Distinguished Visitor (DV) day at the multinational military exercise Rapid Trident 2013, which is based out of the ISPC. As a result of the concurrent scheduling, U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft, Major General David Baldwin, ODC Chief LTC Tracey Rueschoff, and ODC staff all attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the beautifully transformed school. The juxtaposition of these two events highlights the many facets of military work, including international partnership, public diplomacy, and civilian stability.

U.S. Military European Command Transforms Starychi Preschool - Major General David Baldwin and Starychi Preschool Director, Lubov Kmilyovska
U.S. Military European Command Transforms Starychi Preschool – Major General David Baldwin and Preschool Director Lubov Kmilyovska

While regional contractors usually carry out these projects, the U.S. government also requires a significant amount of local collaboration to orchestrate these efforts. Many previous project locations – roughly 25 in the past decade – were suggested by USAID and its regional contractors, illustrating how a number of different players are involved in improving the quality of life across Ukraine. For many Military Humanitarian Assistance (MHA) projects, the United States’ commitment to the health, safety, and success of Ukraine’s students does not end after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The U.S. Military is invested in the continuing success of local communities like Starychi, and recently provided a large shipment of school supplies to support Ukrainian students.

Beyond the new building and school supplies, the most rewarding result was the spirit of optimism that residents exuded in the aftermath of the project. The smiling faces of the Ambassador and other Distinguished Visitors, military leaders, ROTC cadets, teachers, parents, and most importantly the school’s students, spoke volumes about the U.S. Military’s commitment to giving back to communities and building global partnerships, even if only one “forest fairytale” preschool at a time.