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

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.

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.

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.

Ambassador Pyatt Visits Pavlograd Chemical Plant

Posted by: Luke Schtele, Deputy Press Attaché

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Ambassador Pyatt at the Pavlograd Chemical Plant
Ambassador Pyatt at the Pavlograd Chemical Plant

On November 7, 2013, Ambassador Pyatt and delegation from the Department of Defense visited the Pavlograd Chemical Plant west of Dnipropetrovsk.  During Soviet times, the Pavlograd Chemical Plant was responsible for loading solid propellant into the Soviet Union’s arsenal of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.   Since the late 1990s, the Pavlograd Chemical Plant has been pursuing commercial activities and assisting with the decommissioning of the SS-24 ICBM Solid Rocket Motors under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Ambassador Pyatt with the delegation at the Pavlograd Chemical Plant
Ambassador Pyatt with the delegation at the Pavlograd Chemical Plant

The date of this visit coincidentally coincided with the 95th anniversary of the first successful demonstration of a tube-launched rocket by Robert Goddard back in 1918 in Maryland.   Ambassador Pyatt and Mr. Kenneth Myers, Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency,  inspected the special warehouse complex that currently stores SS-24 solid rocket motors.  They also visited the decommissioning system that utilizes a water-washout method and a newly constructed state-of-the-art incinerator that was recently commissioned.  This new incinerator complex was manufactured in Germany by Eisenmann and was the result of an agreement reached at the Washington Nuclear Summit between President Obama and President Yanukovich in April 2010.

The Pavlograd Chemical Plant is a state enterprise headed by Dr. Leonid Shiman and represents the region’s largest industrial employer.  You can find short video documentaries devoted to this project on YouTube’s NunnLugarCTR channel using the following link.

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.

70 Years Since Babi Yar the Holocaust Still Has a Lesson to Teach

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft

“Shoah by Bullets: Mass Shootings of Jews in Ukraine 1941-1944” Exhibit

On September 8th,I attended the opening of the exhibit “Shoah by Bullets: Mass shootings of Jews in Ukraine 1941–1944” at the Ukrainian House in central Kyiv. Although the Shoah by Bullets  exhibit has been shown in Paris, Brussels, New York and other cities, this is the first time it has appeared in Ukraine. Establishing the exhibit in Kyiv was truly an international effort. The Victor Pinchuk Foundation provided key support, in partnership with the Memorial de la Shoah, Yahad – In Unum and the Embassies of Israel, France, Germany and the United States. Other contributors included the Ukrainian Centre for Holocaust Studies, University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, and the Center of Studies of History and Culture of Eastern-European Jews.

This year the international community will join Ukraine in commemorating the 70th year since the massacre at Babi Yar. The opening of the Shoah by Bullets exhibit in Kyiv provides a rare space for Ukrainians to learn and reflect upon a difficult and searing moment in their nation’s history that received short shrift or was outright censored in the Soviet era. That Ukraine experienced staggering human losses during World War II is well documented, but the impact of the Holocaust, and particularly the mass murder of Jews and other victims by Nazi soldiers in Ukraine, is still a relatively new subject for history books and an uncomfortable moment in history for many. It is really only through events such as the Shoah by Bullets exhibit that public awareness and understanding of the Holocaust can be introduced to younger generations. Continue reading “70 Years Since Babi Yar the Holocaust Still Has a Lesson to Teach”