Open Data for a Better Ukrainian Future

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016
1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016

Last Friday, I got to attend the 1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day” at the Eurasia Business Center.  This is one of my favorite events all year, and was definitely a highlight of my week.  The Open Data Incubator, founded by the amazing Denis Gursky, brings together teams from all around Ukraine for a super-intense six-week program of developing open data solutions in different fields.  This year, 14 teams from Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa put together open data plans for agriculture, energy efficiency, public safety, anticorruption, and transportation.  Of course, the best part of the program is the Demo Day at the end, because that’s when you get to see what the teams have come up with.  As always, seeing what Ukraine’s dynamic and talented technology experts can do was incredibly inspirational.  I’m very grateful to Denis and to the United States-supported Western NIS Enterprise Fund (and also Microsoft Ukraine, who hosted Demo Day) for making this open data event possible.

1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016
1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016

The 1991 Open Data Incubator is a powerful example of how the innovation economy can drive progress not only in business, but in all of society.  I’m from California, so I’m a technology optimist.  I’ve seen the extraordinarily important, transformative impact that technology has had during my professional lifetime of about thirty years.  Every couple of years, I try to get to Silicon Valley for a day or two, because you talk to people there and it’s a reminder of how fast the world is changing.  You meet people who have boundless imagination and who are absolutely committed to the idea of leveraging technology to improve the world in which we live.  Today, Ukraine is tapping into those same dynamics and I’m very excited to see where that leads.

1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016
1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016

Open data is a prime example of a multi-purpose approach that has benefits in many areas – fighting corruption, leveraging innovation, driving economic growth – something that was obvious from talking to the Incubator project representatives last Friday.  I loved hearing about AgroMonitor and AgriEye, innovators who are using information to modernize and raise the technological sophistication of agriculture, such an important part of Ukraine’s economy and with such huge potential.  As somebody who travels a lot in Ukraine and has spent a lot of time on Ukrainian roads, it was great to learn about Navizor, an open data navigation solution.  These are all examples of how technology can transform traditional business processes in a way that creates new services, facilitates economic growth, and improves quality of life.

Ukraine has all the ingredients to go through a fundamental transformation in economic possibility driven by open data and grassroots innovation, the same transformation we’ve seen in other countries.  You have talented and well-qualified engineers and technologists.  You have an extraordinary DNA for creativity and innovation.  And you have the national commitment to democracy and strong civil society that is an indispensable ingredient of a flourishing innovation economy.

As Ukraine’s incredibly talented technologists continue to develop that innovation economy, the United States will remain your strong partner.  Keep it up – you’re building the future.

 

Kharkiv: Defying Stereotypes and Leading the Way to Ukraine’s Future

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Neutron Source Facility, Kharkiv, March 2016
Neutron Source Facility, Kharkiv, March 2016

This week, I had the honor to travel to Kharkiv with President Poroshenko as we launched the commissioning phase of our joint $73 million state-of-the-art Neutron Source Facility, which has the potential to vastly expand the research capabilities of the renowned Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology.  My visit, and especially our meeting with the bright young police volunteers training to serve in Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk, reminded me again how fast Ukraine is changing, and just how outdated the simplistic Russian narrative of Ukrainian geographic division has become.  Seeing such dynamic energy in Kharkiv and all the exciting projects in progress there underlines the hope I have for Ukraine’s future.

My first stop with the President was the Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology’s Neutron Source Facility (NSF).  It was well over a year ago that I first visited the site with Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller in December of 2014.  At that time, the project still had some way to go before the NSF could start work.  This time around, though, it’s in the very final stretch, with physical construction now complete.  The $73 million the United States has invested in this state-of-the-art facility will give Ukraine new research capabilities, as well as the ability to produce isotopes for industrial and medical use right here in Ukraine.  My congratulations go most of all to the brilliant scientists of the Institute who were our key partners in making this exciting project a reality, which marks yet another milestone in the twenty-year story (and counting) of our science and technology cooperation with Ukraine.  Ukrainian scientists continue working in close partnership with U.S. National Laboratories, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory, on moving the facility from equipment installation, through commissioning, and into full operation.  The NSF will provide a platform for training a new generation of nuclear experts in Ukraine, and continue the proud tradition of excellence in applied and theoretical physics that has distinguished  the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology since its founding in 1928.

In my conversation with President Poroshenko during the visit, I urged him to support all the steps necessary to commission the facility in 2016, so that Ukrainians can benefit from the full potential of the research center. The upcoming 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, scheduled for March 31 and April 1 in Washington, D.C., will offer President Poroshenko to reaffirm, and the world to recognize, Ukraine’s continuing international leadership on issues of nuclear non-proliferation and safety.

From the NSF, we were off to meet the new Patrol Police cadets training in Kharkiv and observe their rigorous (and action-packed!) basic training course.  The group we saw will fill new Patrol Police positions in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, including Kramatorsk, Slovyansk and Severodonetsk.  I was incredibly inspired by these patriotic young men and women – who represent the next generation of Ukrainians taking their country’s future into their own hands.  Like the cadets in other cities, they are taking the initiative to win the trust of their fellow citizens and keep their communities safe.  I have been very proud of the United States’ support throughout Ukraine for the new Patrol Police, who play an essential role in helping rebuild the faith that the Ukrainian people have in their government institutions – one of their most valuable contributions to Ukrainian society.  And nowhere is that more valuable than in these communities in eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s unprovoked aggression has wrought such devastation and threatened – unsuccessfully, I might add – to destroy people’s trust in their government.  But contrary to Russia’s intentions, Ukraine is stronger and more united than ever, and these cadets are living proof of it.

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Kharkiv Patrol Police Training Center, March 2016

Kharkiv is among the many Ukrainian cities making reforms to attract investment and jobs to their region, and this was evident at our visit to Turboatom, a turbine manufacturer and longtime Kharkiv institution that provides thousands of jobs at its mammoth facility near the center of the city.  Turboatom may have a long history, but it’s also reinventing itself: it’s reached deals with U.S. businesses including Westinghouse and Holtec to modernize Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and move Ukraine toward sustainable energy independence.  Westinghouse is helping Turboatom modernize Ukraine’s nuclear reactors, providing more clean energy to the national electrical grid and developing expertise relevant to other countries with Russian designed reactors, including in Europe; Holtec, meanwhile, is jointly developing spent nuclear fuel storage systems with Turboatom for both domestic and international markets.  It was striking to see at Turboatom so many Ukrainian flags, as well as a touching tribute to employees who were ATO veterans, another rebuke to Russia’s false narrative of division. I’m glad to see Ukrainian and U.S. businesses working together, as with Turboatom, to help Ukraine tap into its enormous potential in domestic energy production and to reduce its reliance on equipment imports from Russia, and hope we’ll see even more cooperation like this in the future.

Ukraine’s future is bright, as it continues to defy Russia’s stereotypes about east and west and present a united Ukraine.  My trip to Kharkiv served as a reminder of just how much more united Ukraine has become over the past two years, through their clear choice for a European identity and in response to Russia’s aggression.  Ukraine has made remarkable progress, something that is all too easy to forget in the day-to-day drama of domestic politics.  And nowhere is that more true than Kharkiv.  At the airport, just before flying back to Kyiv, I had the chance to meet with Governor Rainin.  As I noted in my last blog on Kharkiv (from September), I’m thrilled to have such a strong partner there, one who is committed to pursuing reform and anti-corruption.  As we parted ways, Governor Rainin told me with obvious pride that “Kharkiv is moving ahead.”  My visit made very clear how true that is.

Ukrainian Heroes: the Women Making Ukraine Great

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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U.S. Ambassador Pyatt and Nadiya Savchenko’s mother Mariya, Kyiv, March 2016

Every March 8, as Ukraine celebrates International Women’s Day, we pause to celebrate the contributions women make to our families, our workplaces, and our world.  But it’s not only on March 8 that I’m reminded of the strength and resilience of Ukrainian women – every day, as I interact with them in government, civil society, business, culture, and education, I’ve seen firsthand their tremendous courage.  One of the biggest stories of the past three years is Vladimir Putin’s dangerous underestimation of Ukrainian women.  They are truly a force to be reckoned with.

On the Maidan, I was privileged to witness Olha Bohomolets caring for the wounded and dying.  Her medical corps was a model of compassion blended with quick-thinking skill.  And who can forget Ruslana singing Ukraine’s anthem night after night, unintimidated by the violence she and other Maidan protestors faced?  She sang for freedom, for the dream of so many Ukrainians to live in an open, democratic European society, and none of us who heard her song can ever forget it.

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U.S. Ambassador Pyatt talks to Ukrainian women during the reception, Kyiv, March 2016

And, of course, there is Nadia Savchenko.  I am constantly amazed by the bravery that Nadia has shown through every day of her unjust and illegal captivity in Russia.  Her kidnapping, imprisonment, and “trial,” all in clear violation of the Minsk agreements, is an outrageous mockery of international law.  In spite of this, Nadia has stayed strong, never wavering in her love of country and in her refusal to let the crimes against her break her spirit.  Nadia was already a trailblazer as the first female graduate of Ukraine’s Air Force Academy; her incredible courage in the face of her ongoing detention makes her even more worthy of our deepest respect.

I had the great honor to host Nadiya Savchenko’s mother Mariya in my home last week, along with more than a hundred other amazing Ukrainian women.  In honor of Women’s Day, we invited each guest to bring an important woman in her life.  The incredible group of women that resulted spanned generations and was a cross-section of Ukrainian society.  Every day these women fight corruption, build civil society coalitions, pass new laws, drive technological innovations, and engage in ground-breaking research.  But what united all of them was a shared vision of Ukraine’s future in a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Valuing the extraordinary contributions made by women is not just good economic or political sense:  it is basic fairness and respect for human rights.  President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have both made the rights of women and girls a top priority.  In Ukraine, we see the importance of women’s contributions every single day.  Women played a huge role in the Maidan, and continue to drive reforms in and through the new government.  Whatever changes come in the future, I know that the determined women who have shaped my time in Ukraine will be at the forefront.  Long after the tulips have wilted, let’s resolve to remember and celebrate the contributions of these tremendous women every day of the year.

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.

Helping Ukraine Defend Itself

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Special Operations Forces Training, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, January 2016
Special Operations Forces Training, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, January 2016

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Lengyel, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), on his trip to Khmelnytskyi, where U.S. forces from the 10th Special Forces Group are training Ukrainian special operations forces as part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine.

I welcomed the chance to hear from Deputy Minister of Defense Dolgov and Ukrainian Special Operations Forces Commander Major General Luniov on the status of Ukraine’s special operations reform efforts, and to witness first-hand the classroom and field training U.S. and Allied special operations forces are providing Ukrainian special forces to enhance Ukraine’s capability to defend itself in the face of relentless Russian aggression.

Cyborgs Unit Patch
Cyborgs Unit Patch

At Khmelnitsky, U.S. special operations forces are providing training on a wide array of military specialties — medical, marksmanship, construction and demolition, communications, and technology.  I was incredibly impressed.  Ukraine’s new special operations recruits show great promise, and include many brave soldiers who’ve already served in the ATO, including one of the Cyborgs who had helped defend the Donetsk Airport.  I felt incredibly honored when he presented me with his unit patch.

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U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Ukrainian Special Operations Forces Commander Major General Luniov, Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, January 2016

Our training at Khmelnytskyi is taking place at the invitation of the Ukrainian government, and reflects the commitment of the United States to help Ukraine build a professional, NATO-standard fighting force.  Since 2014, we have provided more than $266 million in equipment and training to help Ukrainian forces better monitor and secure their border, operate more safely and effectively, and defend their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

What I saw on my trip reaffirmed my confidence that the Ukrainian military is committed to moving forward with the process of reform — moving toward European institutions, a NATO-standard military, a NATO-standard special forces capability.  We’re very proud that the United States is part of that project.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch some of my trip highlights here.

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.

Thanksgiving: a Uniquely American Holiday Built on Universal Values

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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This Thursday, we celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which is when American families come together to give thanks for the benefits that they have enjoyed through the year preceding, and to look ahead to the rest of the holiday season. Each year, across America, the train stations and airports are like the train stations and airports in Ukraine around the New Year. It’s by far the busiest travel day of the year in the United States, with people traveling great distances to get back to their families for the holiday.

And of course, as many of you will have seen in American movies, Thanksgiving is about food! Turkey (this is the most essential), cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie are all classic dishes of the traditional American Thanksgiving table. Everyone eats more than they should – it’s all part of the holiday spirit.

(And in case you missed it, you can watch me talking to “Snidanok” on 1+1 about American Thanksgiving traditions earlier this week here.

The Thanksgiving holiday has its roots in American history. Some 400 years ago, a group of “Pilgrims” left their homes in Europe and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of liberty and prosperity. In America, they found the friendship and kindness of the Native American Wampanoag people, who taught them how to harvest the bounty of a new world. Together, they shared a successful crop, and celebrated bonds of community and friendship during a time of great challenge and hardship.

The legacy of that first Thanksgiving has endured through times of war and of peace. During the American Revolution and the Civil War, days of thanksgiving drew Americans together in prayer and in the spirit that guides us to better days. And in each year since, our nation has paused to show our gratitude for our families, communities, and country. It’s a holiday that brings every American together.

This holiday season, we have much to be thankful for. We pay tribute to all those who defend our countries as members of the Armed Forces, as well as the brave heroes serving on Ukraine’s front lines in the east. We are deeply grateful for their service and their sacrifice. I want to give special thanks to the 300 or so soldiers of the 173rd Airborne, who will not be with their families at Thanksgiving, and instead will spend the holiday serving their nation and helping to work with our Ukrainian partners to develop Ukrainian’s capacity to defend its own sovereign territory.

Thanksgiving is also a time when Americans remember the less fortunate.  At shelters and soup kitchens, Americans give back to their communities, keeping in mind the important role that faith and charity played in helping our ancestors forge a new life rooted in freedom and opportunity.

You can watch President Obama’s Thanksgiving address here. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, but as President Obama has noted, the spirit of Thanksgiving is universal. It is found in small moments between strangers, reunions shared with friends and loved ones, and in quiet prayers for others.  Within the heart of America’s promise burns the inextinguishable belief that together we can advance our common prosperity – that we can build a more hopeful, more just, and more unified nation.

These are the very same values that Ukrainians fervently believe in and have been fighting for. This Thanksgiving week, let’s recall the shared values that unite our two countries, and resolve to strengthen the lasting ties between our peoples.