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

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US-Ukraine partnership to help Ukraine diversify its energy sources

The 25th Anniversary of U.S. – Ukrainian Diplomatic Relations — Projects That Change Ukraine

Posted by: Department of Energy Office, Kyiv, Ukraine

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Efforts to provide Ukraine with a nuclear fuel alternative to Russia’s TVEL – which had been a monopoly provider of VVER-1000 nuclear fuel – began in 1998 with the initiation of the Ukraine Nuclear Fuel Qualification Project (UNFQP).  The U.S. launched the project in response to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s decision to cancel the sale of Turboatom-produced turbines for Iran’s Bushehr NPP in 1998.  The UNFQP thereby expanded the U.S.-Ukraine nonproliferation partnership to include the enhancement of energy security for Ukraine.

Westinghouse fuel assembles as stored before loading at Zaporyzhya NPP
Westinghouse fuel assembles as stored before loading at Zaporyzhya NPP

The U.S. Government, through close cooperation between the Department of Energy and Department of State, contributed more than $70 million in Freedom Support Act funding to the UNFQP to develop a robust nuclear fuel technology base in Ukraine and to diversify Ukraine’s nuclear energy supply.  Initially, the effort involved sharing technology and expertise in nuclear fuel design, reactor fuel design, and fuel and core licensing with Ukraine’s Center for Reactor Core Design in Kharkiv.  It then expanded with the competitive selection of Westinghouse to design, fabricate, and deliver six fuel lead test assemblies.  Ukraine’s nuclear regulator reviewed and approved the loading and operation of the fuel in Ukraine’s reactors, and the fuel successfully performed four cycles at Unit 3 of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant (SUNPP) from 2005-2009.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Westinghouse subsequently designed, fabricated, and delivered a reload batch with Ukraine-provided uranium, which received approvals from Ukrainian regulators and began operation in 2010.  Following a period with several challenges, Westinghouse and Energoatom agreed Westinghouse would modify its fuel for future use, and after testing at Westinghouse, the Ukrainian nuclear regulator approved the modified fuel in 2014 for expanded deployment.  Following this approval, Energoatom signed a contract in December 2014 for a significant expansion in fuel provision. Westinghouse fuel is now in use at South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Energoatom envisions using Westinghouse fuel at six of the country’s 15 reactors by the end of 2017.

This project singlehandedly delivered an alternative fuel provider to Russia’s TVEL, which has significantly enhanced Ukraine’s energy security and in turn its self-determination.

Entrepreneurship is Vital for the Future of Ukraine

Posted by: Chip Laitinen, Economic Counselor, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

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Last week we celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week, a time to recognize Ukrainian entrepreneurs and inspire new ones.  President Obama has made entrepreneurship a priority for his administration and at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Forum he called entrepreneurship the engine of growth that creates good-paying jobs, puts rising economies on the path to prosperity, and empowers people to come together and tackle our most pressing global problems, from climate change to poverty.

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Startup founders are some of the most fearless people you will ever meet and share some important traits.  First, they don’t accept the world as it is, instead, when they see a problem they envision a solution and then set out to make it happen.  Another important trait is that they don’t cower under pressure.  Many entrepreneurs take on powerful, entrenched interests that have no intention of letting go of their old way of doing things, but no matter the challenges, entrepreneurs don’t back down.  Those traits should sound familiar, as they perfectly describe, the courageous Ukrainians who have envisioned a better future for their country and are striving to see that vision through.

President Barack Obama waves as he walks off the stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
President Barack Obama waves as he walks off the stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

That spirit is why I believe entrepreneurs continue to succeed in Ukraine, and are a key component  to the country’s economic revitalization.  Even during difficult economic times, entrepreneurs continue to create new companies, new technologies and new ways of doing business away from corruption and cronyism.  These new companies are helping Ukraine connect with the rest of the world economically and culturally, and most of all, are creating new, well-paying jobs that are the foundation of the development of a new middle class in Ukraine.  It’s imperative that the government works hard to provide the enabling support and environment for these startups to thrive, and that the financial sector and investors find innovative ways to provide access to capital so startups can grow.

Tech Expo Fun at America House, 2016
Tech Expo Fun at America House, 2016

Ukraine’s entrepreneurial success and future potential is based on its well educated workforce and connections to international markets.  The technology sector particularly stands out because so many of the world’s largest companies rely on Ukrainian IT professionals to keep their businesses operating at the highest levels.  These engineers, developers, programmers and other skilled and experienced workers offer a fantastic entrepreneurial resource.  Not only do they have experience working with the latest technologies, they also see the problems faced by consumers and businesses all over the world and can envision solutions.

 

Certainly, entrepreneurship is more than just coming up with an idea; it also involves developing a business plan, raising funding, assembling a team, creating a work culture and selling the product. This is why I’m proud that USAID supports entrepreneurship efforts like Kyiv Polytechnic University’s Sikorsky challenge.  Participants complete a rigorous six week start up school to hone their idea and find areas where they will need support.  The program culminates with a pitch day for investors.  We are also proud to partner with TechStars on a Startup Weekend held at America House where people of any age or background can come together to create a new business idea. We at the U.S. Embassy are proud to stand with Ukraine and to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs who are seeking to create new and innovative businesses that will power Ukraine’s development.

U.S. Company Earth Networks Partners with Ukraine Hydrometeorology Institute to Provide Real-time Weather Warnings Across Ukraine on a 24/7 Basis

Posted by: Michele Smith, Commercial Officer, Olena Stephanska, Senior Commercial Specialist, and Anatoliy Sakhno, Commercial Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine

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On October 25 in Kyiv, a U.S. company Earth Networks (EN) and its partner, the Ukraine Hydrometeorology Institute (UHMI) publicly launched their nationwide Severe Weather Early Warning System (EWS) for Ukraine.  The EWS provides real-time warning of heavy rains, high winds, and hail, which is used by government agencies and customers like civil aviation authorities, to save lives.

AP Photo
AP Photo

 

In addition to its sensors in Ukraine, EN has more than 10,000 additional sensors worldwide.  EN integrates the information provided by these sensors with information from the U.S. National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Organization.  This extensive weather network – in conjunction with proprietary forecasting algorithms and technology – provides the most current conditions, refreshed every few minutes, from more than 2.6 million locations worldwide.

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U.S.-Ukrainian cooperation in this area began in early 2016 when EN and UHMI signed a cooperation agreement.  Immediately following this, EN installed 12 sensors in Ukraine, allowing EN and UHMI to launch their Severe Weather Early Warning System in July.  Moving forward, UHMI and EN plan to jointly market and sell their weather data services to businesses and government organizations.  Ukraine’s civil aviation authority is already a customer and EN and UHMI plan to bring more clients into the network over the next several years.

To demonstrate the full capability and value of their meteorological data services, EN, UMHI, and the U.S. Commercial Service in Kyiv recently conducted a seminar for prospective end-users.  George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine welcomed over 30 attendees from both the government and private sectors including; the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, the Ukrainian State Air Traffic Authority, as well as multiple airports, energy companies, gas station chains, and agricultural companies.

AP Photo
AP Photo

In his opening remarks, Mr. Kent underscored the importance of the EN-UMHI partnership:  “Today’s event is not only a seminar about a useful technology with life-saving public benefits, but it is also about international collaboration.  This system is the product of collaboration between two innovative companies – Earth Networks from the United States and the Ukrainian Hydro-Meteorology Institute.”

Indeed, the EN-UHMI partnership represents another step for Ukraine towards global integration, given that various mission-critical organizations in the U.S. and EU are already part of this global network.  For example, EN’s global network, which now includes Ukraine, also includes countries such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Georgia, Turkey, and Israel.

GE Locomotive Drives the Train of Deepening Commercial Relationships between the U.S. and Ukraine

Posted by: Michele Smith and Anatoliy Sakhno, U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine

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This fall Ukraine kicked-off the modernization of its locomotive and wagon fleet by testing General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive. In late September, George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, participated in a press conference held by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Ukrzaliznytsya at Kyiv’s central train station to unveil the new locomotive to the public.  According to Kent, “This new engine is a reminder of Ukraine’s recovering economy, an economy that is rebounding in nearly every sector after two difficult years.”  Kent also said that he hoped that after GE demonstrates its value with its locomotive that the partnership will between GE and Ukraine would expand into many other areas.

George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and GE Locomotive
George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and GE Locomotive

GE hopes that this demonstration project will show to Ukrzaliznytsya and the country the benefits of modernizing its locomotive fleet with U.S. technology.  Ukrzaliznytsya will test GE’s engine for four months and use data collected during this period to evaluate the efficiency and cost savings that this new locomotive could bring to Ukraine.  Initial tests are already showing that the new engine uses 20 to 30 percent less fuel and hauls twice as much as the locomotives Ukraine currently uses.  Maxat Kabashev, Vice President of Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), also participated in the conference and confirmed that since KTZ began using GE locomotives, it has saved over $300 million in fuel costs in five years and has set up a GE production plant in Almaty to produce locomotives.

General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive
General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive

In addition to serving as a symbol of economic recovery and as proof of the cost savings Ukraine could enjoy through modernization, this demonstration project also symbolizes a step forward in the creation of commercial relationships between U.S. and Ukrainian companies.  Though GE has cooperated for years with the governments of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, this demonstration project is GE’s first major step into the Ukrainian market.  The Government of Ukraine and the U.S. Embassy are fully supportive of this cooperation given the scale and urgency of rail modernization in Ukraine.

General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive
General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive

According to the Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, Volodymyr Omelyan, after GE demonstrates its value with this locomotive, this partnership is likely to expand into many other areas.  “We believe that the locomotive presented by General Electric will be a success. I would like that General Electric was not only a strategic partner of the Olympic Games but a strategic partner of Ukraine. The corporation has all facilities for this. There are enough directions for cooperation: railways, aviation, other spheres where this corporation has proved to be a global leader,” the Minister Omelyan said.

Making Good on the Promise of the Maidan

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt at the Nebesna Sotnya memorial, January 2014

Two years after the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine’s leaders — spurred on by an active, engaged, and committed civil society — have pressed forward on difficult political and economic reforms to bring Ukraine closer to its chosen European future. They have done so in the face of a Kremlin-manufactured conflict in the East and a struggling economy inherited from the Yanukovych era, making all that has been accomplished in past two years even more inspiring.

Change has not come easily; it has come with great sacrifice. As Vice President Biden said during his visit, to honor those who have given so much – first on the Maidan and later in Donbas – each of us has an obligation to answer the call of history and to help build a united, democratic Ukraine. The most fitting memorial to the Heavenly Hundred is a Ukraine genuinely rid of corruption, cronyism, and kleptocracy. A Ukraine with deepening ties to Europe that will create new opportunity, new growth, and empower a new generation to reach its God-given potential.

In the day-to-day politics and the bureaucratic struggles of economic reform, it’s easy to get lost in the details. But at times like these, it’s important to keep our eyes on the horizon – to stay focused on the trend lines, not the headlines. To recognize that change is happening, and progress is being made, whether in the Rada, the National Bank, the police, or the reformed Naftogaz. In fact, more progress than at any time in Ukraine’s history.

In the last two years, Ukraine has held successful presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in line with international norms.  You’ve stuck to your IMF program. Your currency has stabilized and you’ve rebuilt your reserves. You’ve worked hard to regain Ukraine’s credibility with the international financial community. Across Ukraine, you have a new, clean national police force that enjoys the most valuable asset of all, the public’s trust. You’ve made progress on decentralization — empowering local communities to improve services for citizens. Economic growth is returning, and a new Free Trade Zone with the European Union has opened exciting new opportunities to leverage Ukraine’s untapped economic potential.

We all agree that more can and must be done, particularly in the area of corruption where so much damage has been done, but the progress of the last two years shows that Ukraine is changing. Two years ago on the Maidan and in the years since, you’ve shown the world that when Ukrainians stand tall together, no kleptocrat, no oligarch, and no foreign power can stop you. By building an inclusive, democratic government that presses forward on reform and truly serves the people, Ukraine’s leaders can show the world that there will be no return to the ways of the past. That’s what the thousands gathered on Maidan stood for. That’s what the Heavenly Hundred and the thousands who’ve died defending their country from a relentless Russian aggressor gave their lives for. Their sacrifice is your obligation.

In the spirit of the Maidan, Ukraine’s leaders can put the Ukrainian people first – above posturing, party politics, and personal interests. They can seize this opportunity and help Ukraine step fully into its rightful place among the free, democratic, Western nations.  That’s the future the Ukrainian people want and deserve. And it’s the best way of honoring the hopes, the dreams, and the memory of those whose blood and courage have given Ukraine a second chance for freedom.

Christmas Carols, Vertep, and Kutya in Lviv: A Perfect Start to 2016

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Lviv, January 2016
Lviv, January 2016

Happy New Year, everyone! I was especially lucky to spend my first week back in Ukraine celebrating Christmas in Lviv. Lviv is always beautiful, but the snow-covered churches and Rynok made this trip especially memorable.

As someone who’d never had the chance to visit Lviv during the holidays, I found the level of activity amazing. Thousands gathered in the Rynok, with long lines for ice skating and to climb the tower of the Administrative building.

Lviv, January 2016
Lviv, January 2016

It reminded me a lot of the big Christmas markets I remember from our time in Vienna.  A member of the Rada who joined me in walking around the old town introduced me to Ukrainians from all corners of the country — from Odesa, Slovyansk, Kyiv, and Kharkiv – who had gathered to celebrate in Lviv. It was a powerful demonstration of a united Ukraine.

Lviv, Dominican Church, January 2016
Lviv, Dominican Church, January 2016

I was moved to listen to Christmas carols in the Dominican Church, which would have been outlawed in the Stalin era, and enjoyed the many Vertep processions. Though the tradition of putting on Christmas plays is common across many countries, I didn’t realize how political the Vertep is, with its unique combination of humor, music, and irony.  Later in the evening, I had the rare opportunity to join Mayor Sadovyi, friends, and colleagues for a traditional family Christmas dinner, where I had my first chance to taste kutia. It was delicious! Given how sweet it is, I can understand how it is a once-a-year treat.

Each of these many Christmas traditions exemplifies the pride and creativity that are unique to Ukraine’s national character, and I was glad to share in them with so many Ukrainians united by family, friendship, and tradition.  It was a fitting start to what promises to be a historic year, and makes me even more optimistic about all that 2016 has in store for Ukraine.