The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine has led to growing polarization between the West and Russia. While the governments of the countries involved grapple with how to respond, it is important that we remember who has the most to gain and lose in this struggle: the Ukrainian citizens. Poor economic policy, corruption, 18 months of deep recession, and a turn away from further integration with the European Union all contributed to economic instability. This instability was the impetus for citizens to take the streets to demand a better future. Their goals are not unique. Like us, they strive for peace, prosperity, and individual rights that are supported by the rule of law.
The situation in Ukraine, like many recent uprisings around the world, exemplifies a simple fact: regimes can no longer ignore the will of their people. And for that reason, it is important for the United States government and its people to engage with the people of Ukraine in significant ways.
it is important for the United States government and its people to engage with the people of Ukraine in significant ways
This is why on March 12, the U.S. Department of State announced a number of initiatives that will help strengthen relations with Ukraine and promote greater stability in the region. They include ministerial-level talks on energy security and rule of law with a Strategic Partnership Commission as well as a U.S.-Ukraine Business Summit in Washington, DC, which will bring government, economic, and legal experts together to explore ways to fuel economic growth.
The Department of State is also engaging Ukraine’s citizenry through enhanced programs that build people-to-people connections and partnerships to spur growth. Citizen-centered initiatives include expanded funding and programs that will allow more Ukrainian students and scholars to study in the United States. Additionally, over 50 future leaders of Ukraine will be eligible for short-term exchanges and professional experiences in the United States in critically important fields.
The U.S. will also establish an Alumni Innovation Grant Competition for Ukrainian alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs. This will give exchange program alumni the chance to turn their best ideas for improving their country’s future into action (for more information about the new initiatives run by the Department of State, go to: http://j.mp/us-ukr2014 ).
Many of our members recently had the opportunity to interact with one very courageous International Visitor Leadership Program participant and citizen from Ukraine—Ruslana Lyzhychko. Ms. Lyzhychko is a former pop music star, a civil society activist, and human rights advocate who led Ukraine’s EuroMaidan movement for democratic reform. Ms. Lyzhychko was one of 10 women to receive the U.S. Department of State’s prestigious International Women of Courage Award in March 2014. She was recognized for her “exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.” She used her high profile to rally citizens to peacefully demonstrate for political change. In the face of police attacks, death threats and the bone-rattling cold, she continuously joined protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square, singing the Ukrainian national anthem as well as her own music — sometimes performing for as long as eight hours straight.
their exchange experiences here will inspire and inform their work in their home countries
Given the Department of State’s increased efforts to leverage people-to-people connections through new international exchange programs, you and your supporters have the opportunity to help shape the future of Ukraine by hosting groups of international exchange participants. Take the opportunity to put your best foot forward. As you connect them with contacts, resources, and knowledge, keep in mind that their exchange experiences here will inspire and inform their work in their home countries. Remember, the individual citizens you meet on these exchange programs—like Ms. Lyzhychko—will be the ones who will determine the fate of their country.
Jennifer Clinton, PhD, President, Global Ties U.S.