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

An American Folk Band in Ukraine: An interview with Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards

Posted by: Lesia Trachuk, Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, an American folk music band based in Boston, Massachusetts, toured Ukraine March 1-6, with concerts in Kharkiv and Kyiv. During their stay in Ukraine, the group also offered workshops, master classes, and presentations on what draws them to traditional American music.

Band leader Laura Cortese shared her thoughts and impressions about the group’s Ukrainian tour with the U.S. Embassy.

How did you decide to tour Ukraine? 

We are on a multi-country tour arranged through the State Department’s American Music Abroad program.  American Music Abroad has been sending American musicians all over the world for many years.  It’s a really competitive program.  First, there’s an open audition process.  This year, over 400 bands applied.  A small number of those are selected for live auditions, and 10 bands are chosen to participate.  American Music Abroad works with Embassies all over the world to decide which groups tour where, depending on what they think would appeal to local audiences.  On this trip, we have already been to Estonia and Greece.  This week, we’re here in Ukraine, and then we are going to Montenegro.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

What do you think of the Ukrainians you’ve met so far? 

We had an incredible night in Kharkiv last night.  [Note: The group played at Fabrika, and the place was packed.]  I think that was the best audience we’ve had so far this tour.  From the very first song, they were clapping along. I think the audience was maybe 70 % college age students, and I think that has a lot to do with why they were so receptive and responsive, but really everyone in the audience were with us, they sang along. There was even one guy who got up when we said — Hey, who’s gonna dance?  He was a beautiful dancer. That was amazing.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

We did a masterclass and a press conference at the National Academy of Arts in Kharkiv.  What was exciting about that was that there were a lot of questions about music education in the States.  We had a chance to explain that every place is different, every state is different, every city is different, and every individual experience is different.  People also wanted to know what it’s like to be an independent musician, making a living as an entrepreneur. We also talked about the roots of the Appalachian Mountains music that we play. It’s a mix of 17th century Scottish fiddle music and African music, both traditions coming together in the United States.

And we also got to meet an instructor who’s a balalaika player.  We got to collaborate and play together, and it was really cool. He knew the bluegrass style and it was really fun.

Can you describe your music in three words?

Indie, Chamber, Folk.

Do you know any Ukrainian musicians, composers, or songs?  Do you have any favorites? 

Before we came to Ukraine, we didn’t know much at all.  As we were getting ready to come, we were listening to music online, and we heard Chervona Ruta. It’s a fun, upbeat song, and there are lots of different versions.  We haven’t learned it yet, but it’s been stuck in our heads ever since.


U.S. Independence Day: Celebrating Freedom and Democracy

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015
Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015

Last week, the United States marked the 239th anniversary of its independence – and I was lucky enough to celebrate the Fourth of July not once, but twice!   First, on July 2 – the day the Second Continental Congress voted for independence in 1776 – I was delighted to welcome a broad range of luminaries from Ukrainian government, civil society, and business to my home for the Embassy’s annual Independence Day reception.

Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015
Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015

Our Marine Security Guards presented the colors in their best dress, visiting members of the U.S. Army Choir sang a moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and Ruslana rocked the Ukrainian national anthem like no one else can.  It was a great opportunity to visit with friends and colleagues, enjoy a taste of home, and celebrate the core values the United States and Ukraine share.  Plus, I got to wear the really great American flag vyshyvanka that was given to me as a gift by our friends at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015
Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015

On Saturday, the actual Fourth of July, I joined the American Chamber of Commerce for its annual Independence Day Picnic at the Kyiv International School – another fun event with great company, food, and music by our Embassy band, Duck and Cover.

Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015
Celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Ukraine, July 2, 2015

The Fourth of July has always been my favorite American holiday. Beyond the fireworks, the barbecuing, and the beer, it’s fundamentally about democracy, rule of law, and the principles of freedom. For the early United States, this was no easy road.  In our own Revolution, we had to fight for these principles through hard times, times when democracy seemed like it might be a failed experiment.  At a time when Ukraine is challenged as never before, our Independence Day was a time to look ahead to what Ukraine stands to gain at the end of its own hard road: the self-determination and true democracy that was the central demand of those who stood on the Maidan.

I’m excited to see what the future holds as we work together to accomplish these shared goals. The United States is proud to be a partner as both we and Ukraine strive to perfect our democracies, and we are grateful to have the chance to share this holiday with the people of Ukraine.

More photos

Remarks by Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt at a Reception Celebrating U.S. Independence Day

A New Police Force for Ukraine

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt

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U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt and Deputy Minister of Interior Eka Zguladze
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt and Deputy Minister of Interior Eka Zguladze at the new patrol police recruitment center

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join Deputy Minister of Interior Eka Zguladze at the new patrol police recruitment center at the Teacher’s House in downtown Kyiv.  The center is at the forefront of the Ukrainian government’s efforts to stand up a new, professional cadre of first responders committed to protecting and serving the public. I was delighted to learn that nearly 4,000 Ukrainians – more than 30% of them women — have already applied to serve their country and their communities as patrol police in Kyiv.

The United States is a proud partner of the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior as it works to stand up this new police force.  Once selected, new recruits will receive training from U.S. law enforcement experts funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.  And as I told the crowd that joined us yesterday, we will be sending our very best trainers to support this critical element of Ukraine’s reform effort.

We all want to see the new patrol police build the trust between law enforcement and local communities that the Ukrainian people want and deserve.  I’m grateful to Deputy Minister Zguladze and Minister Avakov for their leadership, and look forward to the patrol’s first deployment in Kyiv in June.

Interested in learning more about how to be a part of Ukraine’s new police?  Check out

Going Green in Ways Big and Small: U.S. Embassy Kyiv Celebrates Earth Week with a Park Cleanup and Environmental Initiatives

Posted by: Joseph Rozenshtein is Assistant Management Officer and Green Team Coordinator; Rachel Atwood Mendiola is an Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer and leads the Green Team’s outreach efforts.

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Ambassador Geoff Pyatt led U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s celebration of Earth Week 2014 by helping to clean a portion of Nivky Park
Ambassador Geoff Pyatt led U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s celebration of Earth Week 2014 by helping to clean a portion of Nivky Park

On Wednesday, April 30, Ambassador Geoff Pyatt led U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s celebration of Earth Week 2014 by helping to clean a portion of Nivky Park, located just across Igor Sikorski Street from the Embassy. The beautification project involved 25 Embassy officers, local staff, and family members working together with the Kyiv City Park Administration. We collected trash, including broken glass, bottle caps, plastic waste, and other refuse, and swept one of the major paths in the park to make it cleaner for fellow pedestrians. Nivky Park is more than 100 years old and was granted the status of a local nature reserve in 1972. There are over 90 varieties of trees in the park. The park is a long-time neighborhood favorite.

The park cleanup was organized by U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Green Team. As Green Team members, we were glad to see so many of our colleagues and their family members join us to give back to a park and community that means so much to us, both as commuters and as good neighbors, by helping to keep the park clean, healthy, and safe. It’s also not every day that you see the Ambassador with a broom!

The cleanup is only one of the many activities the Embassy is doing to celebrate environmental responsibility.  As Secretary of State Kerry said, “This year’s Earth Day focus is cities, and the fact is, how the world’s cities respond to our climate change challenge will make a huge difference. Roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in the world’s urban communities by 2050. Building codes and electricity requirements, public transportation systems, and land management will help determine whether we meet this global challenge. The Department of State is committed to doing our part to help bring about greener cities around the world.” As part of the Department of State’s “Greening Diplomacy Initiative,” the Embassy has worked green practices into the very fabric of our mission. Here are just a few things we are doing:

  • We built a green Embassy, with a green roof system and indigenous landscaping with rain gardens that pre-treat storm water.
  • We installed energy efficient hand driers to reduce our paper towel use.
  • Our Building Automation System keeps our boilers turned off for longer periods of time, reducing energy and gas consumption.
  • We safely dispose thousands of fluorescent light bulbs that contain harmful mercury.
  • We have motion sensors to control lighting in the corridors, some offices, and rooms.
  • We buy paper locally, rather than shipping it from the U.S., which reduces gas consumption and pollution from transportation.
  • We care about recycling and recently visited the company where our paper, plastic, glass, and metal waste items are sorted for recycling.
  • We used distillers in all our homes to reduce bottled water usage, but as these machines are not energy efficient, we are replacing the distillers with low energy water filters, reducing our carbon footprint.
  • We also started a community garden last year. Most of us grew up in cities where access to nature was limited, and with the community garden, we can learn about growing food while teaching our children the importance of caring for the environment.

But that’s just what we do inside the Embassy. We also strive to help Ukraine and Ukrainians to improve their environment with various projects, like improving environmental legislation and clean energy regulation, saving energy, reducing CO2 emissions, and developing sustainable clean energy alternatives, among others.

To learn more, and to tell us some of the ways you work to improve your environment, check out our recent Earth Day video!

Alec Ross in Kyiv to Promote Internet Freedom

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

Ambassador Tefft welcomes Alec Ross and Ben Scott
Ambassador Tefft welcomes Alec Ross and Ben Scott at his residence

I had the pleasure of hosting Alec Ross in Kyiv from October 25 to 27. Alec is the Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is one of Washington’s leading voices for internet freedom and the use of social media in foreign policy. Alec and his deputy Ben Scott spent three eventful days in Kyiv learning about the local status of internet freedom and discussing Secretary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft agenda. Their visit was part of a regional trip with stops in Estonia and Russia.

21st Century Statecraft is an ambitious agenda to use new online tools and the increasingly networked nature of the world to transform the State Department’s approach to diplomacy and development. As Secretary Clinton said in January 2010: “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”

Alec and Ben came to Kyiv with fascinating ideas to share about the disruptive change caused by the internet. But their main goal was to hear from a diverse range of Ukrainian businessmen, politicians, journalists, activists, and bloggers about how the internet is affecting Ukraine economically and socially, and its future potential in the country. Continue reading “Alec Ross in Kyiv to Promote Internet Freedom”

Impressions of a City: Kyiv Through the Eyes of an American Embassy Intern

Posted by: Leah Antil, Spring 2011 Intern in the Public Affairs Section

Writing to my family and friends about my new home Kyiv has been especially difficult. How can Kyiv be contained in a few paragraphs of pretty prose and fancy words? How can I possibly limit myself when every moment I am completely entranced by something new, exciting, and beautiful? Instantly, I feel that whatever picture I can paint for my friends and family will fall short, and photographs could never do it justice. For everyone I know who would be equally captivated here, I want to share Kyiv and offer glimpses of a city that continues to amaze and inspire me every day.

Ukrayinsky Dim

The streets of Kyiv, lined with architectural representations from various centuries, speak to me through color and detail that their more recent counterparts cannot manage to convey: the blues and greens of the ageless churches… the daffodil yellows and bright pinks of government buildings… the sage colors that I can’t even name adorning the buildings lining city streets. Even the ceiling in the entrance to my apartment features molded flowers, painted with the reds, blues, golds, and greens that are so common on Ukrainian souvenirs.  Continue reading “Impressions of a City: Kyiv Through the Eyes of an American Embassy Intern”