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.
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.
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.
By Master Sgt. Charles D. Larkin, USAF United States European Command Stuttgart, Germany, May 5, 2015
Three years ago, United States European Command (EUCOM) consolidated several military installations located throughout Europe. As installations closed and buildings were emptied, office furniture, computers, beds, and other furniture and equipment piled up in warehouses, like the one operated by the US-Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Italy.
Thanks to the efforts of EUCOM and DSCA, some of those items were recently given a new home in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine, EUCOM officials, and members of local Ukrainian government and non-government organizations gathered at the brand-new Vinnytsia Community Education Center for an inauguration ceremony on April 27.
The project began in 2012 as a request from a local non-government organization. They wanted a resource center in their area to focus on public health and youth education for socially-vulnerable individuals. Additionally, the community center also addresses the problems of internal displaced persons (IDP) and human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation — often referred to as a modern-day form of slavery — is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity in Ukraine. Trafficking of women and children for this type of exploitation is a serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of victims and their families. Continue reading “Three Years, Two Partner Nations, One Mission”→
In mid-September, I had the opportunity to travel to Ukraine to see firsthand the work that USAID is doing to support critical recovery and reform efforts. Not only did I return with a better understanding and appreciation of the programming we are implementing, but also was impressed by the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people facing the challenging road ahead.During my trip, I had the opportunity to travel to Dnipropetrovsk – only a couple of hundred miles from the conflict zone in the East where thousands of Ukrainians were driven from their homes by the battle between Ukrainian forces and Russia-supported separatists.At a visit to a Dnipropetrovsk center for internally displaced persons (IDPs), organized and run by volunteers, I was awestruck by the outpouring of support and the capacity of Ukrainians from all walks of life to contribute and assist their countrymen.
This center is providing food, clothing and temporary shelter to over 21,000 people pouring into Dnipropetrovsk from the neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I was able to meet Maria and her young daughter who were forced to leave their home in Horlivka, close to Donetsk and have been in Dnipropetrovsk for a few weeks. While she told me that being displaced is difficult, she was very impressed with the reception provided in Dnipropetrovsk. Maria spends her days volunteering at the center and helping new arrivals.
In early June, the center received around 100 people per day. Now, with more than 300 new arrivals per day, the center needs support.The United States Government, in coordination with the government of Ukraine, has responded to the need to help the roughly 271,000 people displaced by this conflict. This center, and others like it, will receive bedroom furniture and kitchen appliances for new arrivals with nowhere else to go. USAID is also developing plans to refurbish two floors of the center to shelter an additional 200 people.
During Ukraine’s Maidan movement, thousands took a stand against corruption and government abuse to demand a free and democratic Ukraine. Throughout my trip, it became evident that the Ukrainian people are eager to contribute to their new government’s efforts. At one meeting, I entered a room packed with dozens of civil society representatives, many of whom we support to build their organizations’ capacity to advocate for and oversee reform efforts in decentralization, transparency, and health. Not only is their passion and dedication working to hold the government accountable, but many are also working to improve the humanitarian situation in the East by helping the government care for IDPs and even feeding and clothing soldiers. They are truly continuing to fight for the dignity that started on the Maidan and are one of the main reasons I’m hopeful about Ukraine’s future.
Although the Government was not able to pass an anti-corruption bill on September 16th, key officials remain committed to paving the way for a new Ukraine. I had the honor to meet with newly elected Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klychko – some of you might remember Mr. Klychko, who for years reigned as heavyweight boxing champion of the world before entering the Ukrainian political ring. Mr. Klychko is pushing for major reforms in this city of 4 million to address waste and corruption. USAID is redoubling its efforts to partner with the City on its anti-corruption agenda, especially on e-governance, where USAID has recently hired an advisor to assist the city, the Presidential Administration, and the Ministry of Regional Development.
Looking forward, the U.S. Government remains committed to supporting Ukraine in both the short and long term as its leaders make the difficult sacrifices required to build the stable, democratic, and prosperous country its people deserve.
During President Poroshenko’s visit on September 18th, President Obama announced a new package of assistance totaling $53 million and has requested an additional $45 million from Congress in the next fiscal year to support Ukraine. The U.S. Government has provided $291 million in critical assistance this year as well as a $1 billion loan guarantee in May.
USAID, as part of a U.S. Government interagency team, is working closely with local partners and international donors to deliver immediate support to meet Ukraine’s most urgent areas of need. Together, we can help get relief to IDPs and provide humanitarian assistance to the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine.
USAID is making every effort to help Ukraine prepare for the challenges presented by the coming winter, replacing damaged windows to make homes habitable in the cold, and working with the electrical system managers to reduce the dangers of black-outs because of the fuel shortage. We are gearing up to assist in next month’s parliamentary elections to help ensure that the voices of all Ukrainians are heard and represented.
While these pressing needs are being addressed, USAID will continue to help Ukraine make important reforms that are necessary to end corruption, decentralize power, and reform its constitution.
In the longer term, USAID continues to work with the Ukrainian Government to support a prosperous Ukraine, with a stable economy, more productive farms, and greater energy efficiency.
In recent months Ukraine has made great strides in many areas. The Ukrainian Parliament unanimously passed the Association Agreement with the European Union, committing Ukraine to economic, judicial and financial reforms in line with European Union policies and legislation. Ukraine has fulfilled several steps of the Minsk ceasefire agreements necessary to stop the loss of life in Eastern Ukraine. A free and fair presidential election was held in May and the country now prepares for historic parliamentary elections.
Despite these achievements, serious challenges remain.
Even while fighting to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and responding to the pressing needs of its citizens in the short-term, the Ukrainian government cannot forget the message of the Maidan and must follow through on its commitments to fighting corruption, improve the rule of law, and build the transparency and accountability that they promised.
Ukraine is at a critical juncture and if history is any indicator, there is a limited window of time for the Ukrainian Government to make good on these commitments. Only through the passing and implementation of challenging reforms, will Ukraine be successful in the long road ahead. The United States, including USAID, look forward to remaining a strong and committed partner in this journey.
On May 17, 2014, the world will observe International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and communities across the globe. IDAHO promotes a world of tolerance, respect, and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The U.S. Government maintains a vision in which the human rights of LGBT persons are respected and they are able to live with dignity, free from discrimination, persecution and violence. In this world, the human rights of LGBT persons are upheld; they are able to participate fully in democratic decision-making in their households, communities and countries; they have equal access to sustainable livelihoods, economic assets and resources; and they are not barred from accessing the basic education, health and other services that are enjoyed by their fellow citizens and that are essential for personal well-being and growth. LGBT persons and their allies can come together to advocate for the equal treatment for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
In Ukraine, the U.S. Government supports programs that counter abuse, discrimination and human rights violations targeting LGBT persons. For example, the U.S. Embassy provides small grants to LGBT non-governmental organizations and helps enhance the skills of LGBT leaders through training programs and exchanges in the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) civil society activities work with non-governmental organizations, including those focused on LGBT concerns, to help them advocate for human rights. Additionally, a USAID media development project monitors and reports on media activities related to gender, and the ways in which LGBT persons and issues are portrayed in the media. USAID also supports programs that counter the trafficking in human beings, which includes support for LGBT persons who can be victims of trafficking.
Ukraine faces many challenges at the moment. Supporting the fight against homophobia and passing legislation to prevent discrimination against LGBT persons will not only improve the lives of Ukrainian LGBT citizens but will also strengthen Ukraine’s ability to meet these challenges by improving the business environment for foreign investment and furthering visa liberalization with the European Union. The U.S. Government looks forward to working with the Government of Ukraine and all Ukrainians to further protect the rights of LGBT persons.
Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing an additional $1.25 million to the U-MEDIA program in Ukraine, a project of Internews and its Ukrainian partner organizations aimed at supporting Ukrainian media outlets as they prepare for the Ukrainian presidential election on May 25.
Members of the media in Ukraine have faced serious challenges and dangers over the past several months, USAID said in announcing the grant on its website May 2. More than 500 journalists have been harassed, beaten or abducted since November 2013, and one journalist was killed. Media outlets have been attacked and news-gathering equipment has been seized or destroyed, USAID said.
“USAID supports a strong and independent media in Ukraine,” said Paige Alexander, USAID assistant administrator for the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. “This additional funding will help to protect vulnerable journalists while also advancing press freedoms and democratic governance in Ukraine.”
USAID supports respect for universal values around the world as central to its mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. The agency’s work is committed to increasing awareness, creating strong legal foundations for independent media and civil society, improving government responsiveness to constituents and supporting platforms for free and open communications.
USAID said these new funds will support a number of activities:
• Webinars on media rights and responsibilities will be conducted in preparation for the presidential and local election campaigns, and regional training seminars will be conducted on journalistic legal and professional standards during an election. Voter education public service announcements will be produced and distributed to media outlets across Ukraine.
• Joint public forums and town hall discussions will cover constitutional reform in the context of the presidential election, political processes between the expected rounds one and two of the election, analysis of candidate platforms, local election procedures, Ukrainian unity and implications of European Union integration.
• Assistance will be provided to 1st Ukrainian Channel and a local foundation to produce and broadcast debates between the presidential candidates, as well as post-debate webcasts.
• Cross-regional exchanges will link 45 journalists, editors and bloggers to increase information available to citizens about political reforms, economic and social issues, and the May 25 presidential elections. Small grants for content production will be provided to cover news events, and the creation of regional news and information Web portals and live webcasts.
• Physical and digital security training will be provided for journalists, including best practices for safe Internet and mobile communications use, as well as how to avoid or disengage from dangerous situations when covering civil unrest.
USAID said it is supporting the government of Ukraine as it implements constitutional and electoral reforms that fulfill its stated goal of becoming a fully inclusive and economically stable democracy. The U.S. government has invested $11.4 million to support a transparent and democratic election process in Ukraine. Programs support improvements to the electoral framework; voter education and civic participation; transparent and effective election administration; open and responsive political competition; effective oversight of election processes; election security and redress of infractions; and a diverse, balanced and policy-focused media environment.
Technology is becoming increasingly important in all public services, but especially libraries. In an age where economic, educational, health, and social opportunities depend more and more on access to the Internet, lack of access means lack of opportunity.
Microsoft decided that the USAID Bibliomist project was a great opportunity to partner with USAID, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Library Association to spur the evolution of Ukraine’s libraries into modern information resource and community centers. Microsoft donated $9 million in software to Ukraine’s public libraries as part of its global initiative to endow communities with accessible and useful technology. Today Bibliomist can proudly state that it has helped revive 10 percent of Ukraine’s libraries and firmly planted the seeds to rejuvenate many more. Only through such a broad-based partnership could such an endeavor be realized.
Libraries are sources not only of books but also information, so their importance is not waning. Libraries can use technology in a variety of ways. For instance, by supporting public access computers, we help ensure that those who do not have computers available to them at home, work, or school can still benefit from this critical technology. Using technology, libraries can also provide benefits to the community as a whole. For instance, libraries are well positioned to develop community assessments, which are studies that help a community identify its needs and then determine how to go about meeting them.
Today Ukraine’s public libraries are working diligently to close both the digital and the opportunity gap: from giving free classes on resume-building to providing free access to technology. They are striving to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. As libraries discover better ways to deliver information via new media platforms and improve operational efficiencies, they will have a greater impact on a broader population.
In supporting Ukraine’s libraries, our expectation is that Microsoft technologies will be a resource that both municipalities and local community groups will be able to use in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and make their communities stronger.
Although there is much still to do, we’re inspired by what we’ve seen while working with Ukrainians: people taking the lead in changing not only their lives but the lives of those around them, making a real impact in their local communities and in Ukraine in general.
It is New Year’s Eve at a prison in Ukraine and men stand around in a large cell, sharing a single blunt, filthy syringe as they mutilate their arms to inject drugs. “The scene is typical of Ukrainian prisons,” explained an ex-inmate who wished to remain unnamed.
In Ukraine, prison inmates often participate in risky behaviors that contribute to the spread of HIV. Some prisoners use old syringes over and over. Others manufacture their own injecting tools using pens and plastic tubes. Still others tattoo their bodies using non-sterile instruments or have unprotected sex with fellow inmates or visitors.
A recent USG funded survey of 1,300 prison inmates shows that HIV prevalence among inmates is more than 13 percent (10 percent among men and 33 percent among women), 20 times higher than in the general population. Forty-four percent of those surveyed reported injecting drugs during their lives and 17 percent admitted using drugs while in prison.
The state penitentiary service in Ukraine has been slow to implement Ukraine’s National AIDS policies. Only 60 of Ukraine’s 183 prisons receive HIV/AIDS treatment supplies. Poor prison conditions and abusive practices by prison staff increase inmate vulnerability to infection and sometimes obstruct treatment for HIV positive prisoners. Harm reduction services such as syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy, and even HIV testing are either not available or offered inconsistently.
After leaving prison, injecting drug users face challenges that may lead them to transmit HIV; many have no home, no job, and poor knowledge of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
USG is partnering with the government of Ukraine and other international donors to address these tough issues with a two-pronged approach, and things are slowing beginning to change.
First, USG’s Project Start is collaborating with Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice to implement a HIV/STI/Hepatitis C risk-reduction program for inmates who are soon to be released. It begins two months before they leave prison and continues for three months after their release. The program includes seven one-on-one sessions with each client, providing a range of counseling and prevention strategies tailored to each individual.
Second, USG’s PLEDGE Project, implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is promoting systemic change in Ukraine’s penitentiaries by advocating new harm-reduction policies through Ukraine’s legislature and directly with prison authorities.
Through USG efforts on the legislative side, a Joint Order for the treatment of detained persons was recently created with Ukraine’s Ministries of Health, Interior, and Justice. Also with USG support, Ukraine developed and approved a comprehensive National Anti-Drug Strategy. The strategy demonstrates a shift from previously repressive measures to a more human-rights-based approach for people who inject drugs, promoting increased coverage and accessibility for syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy and integrated services to address HIV/TB, Hepatitis C, and other related diseases.
Finally, USG, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS, has developed comprehensive HIV services for pilot prisons, including education about drug use for prisoners and prison staff.
This past July Serhiy Zinchenko, head of the Ukraine State Penitentiary Service Personnel Department, expressed the government’s new found support for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS when he stated “We now understand the need to improve the situation in this sphere. It is important to learn international standards for treatment of prisoners, in particular related to their right to health care.”