ADVOCACY FOR UKRAINE ISSUES ADVANCE ON CAPITOL HILL

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WASHINGTON, DC (UNIS) Nearly four dozen Ukrainian Americans representing New Jersey, District of Columbia, New York, Illinois, Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, Washington state, and Michigan convened in Washington, DC on Wednesday and Thursday, March 8-9, 2017 for the first-in-a-series of “Ukrainian Days” advocacy events to be held this year. Additional “Ukrainian Days” advocacy events are planned for June and September.  The Ukrainian Americans were also joined by community leaders from the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), representing communities of Central and East European heritage, as well as the Syrian American community.  Students from the Philadelphia areaUkrainian Saturday School civics group also participated in the advocacy event.  It was an opportunity for them to experience government civics in action.

"Normally, Ukrainian Days are held once a year and is a time during which Ukrainian Americans meet with their elected representatives to discuss concerns related to U.S.-Ukraine relations," noted event organizer Michael Sawkiw, Executive Vice President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and Director of the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), the public affairs office of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA).  “But, since the election of a new Congress and president in November 2016, as well as renewed Russian aggression in Ukraine, the past several months have been extraordinarily difficult for Ukraine and once again, Ukrainian Americans must send the message that Ukraine's fight for democracy and independence is not a battle that it can fight alone - Ukraine must be supported vigorously by the United States."

The “Ukrainian Days” advocacy event began with a morning briefing session, which included presentations by former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu EurasiaCenter at the Atlantic Council and former U.S. ambassador to Georgia William Courtney, adjunct senior fellow at the RAND Corporation.  His Excellency John Bura, Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church – Philadelphia Archeparchy, led the participants in a prayer for Ukraine and the welfare of the Ukrainian American community.

Each speaker provided an overview of the current political climate between the United States and Russia, as well as a review of Ukraine’s reform efforts.  Maintaining the sanctions regime against the Russian Federation is a high priority for Congress as evidenced by the many congressional bills.  The speakers’ counsel for the advocacy participants was to concentrate their efforts on Congress with a message of why Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence are critical to U.S. national security interests.

Briefing papers were distributed to “Ukrainian Days” participants that included an analysis of ‘How Congress Can Assist Ukraine’.  The briefing notes provided a summary of legislation that has been introduced in Congress since the beginning of the year:  Russian Sanctions Review Act; STAND for Ukraine Act; Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act; and two resolutions calling for an end to the violence in Ukraine and expressing unwavering commitment of the United States to NATO.  A listing of the members in the Congressional Ukrainian and Senate Ukraine Caucuses was also circulated to encourage greater membership in the bi-partisan legislative groups.

“Ukrainian Day” participants met with more than 50 offices in the House of Representatives and Senate, among them: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL); Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI); Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL); Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA); Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH); Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA); Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY); Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY); Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ); Sen. Patrick Toomey (D-PA); Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY); Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA); Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI); Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA); Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY); Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA); Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA); Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA); Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC); Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA); Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH); Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY); Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC); Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC); Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA); Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI); Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA); Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY); Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH); Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA); and, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) .   Most Members of Congress joined their respective staffers to acquaint themselves with the community representatives concerns regarding the current situation in Ukraine and acts of increased Russian aggression. The students from the Philadelphia Saturday School also “popped in” to various congressional offices during their trek on Capitol Hill to advocate for greater U.S.-Ukraine relations.

Myron Kolinsky, a representative of the Connecticut Ukrainian community and a particpant of previous “Ukrainian Days” since the Revolution of Dignity, mentioned the importance of the advocacy events and making the effort to come to Washington, DC:  “The Connecticut community has met with its elected officials locally several times since the revolution in Ukraine.  They recognize our concerns and are grateful for our advice and counsel.  However, our concerns are amplified when we travel to Washington to relate the dire circumstances in Ukraine and the need for U.S.assistance.  I urge everyone to participate in future “Ukrainian Days” advocacy events.” It should be noted that the Connecticut community has interacted with their elected officials (Sen. Murphy, Sen. Blumenthal, Rep. Larson, Rep. DeLauro, etc.) and held many meetings to discuss Ukraine-related issues.   Other communities have also been successful in hosting their elected officials in town hall settings.

The successful daytime advocacy event was bolstered by an evening congressional reception held in the Capitol Visitor Center. The “Ukrainian Days” participants and guests were warmly welcomed by UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw, who introduced His Excellency Paul Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church - Stamford Diocese - to deliver the invocation. Following the“Prayer for Ukraine,” Mr. Sawkiw introduced one of the newest co-chairs of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, Rep. Andy Harris, MD (R-MD), who is of Ukrainian ancestry. The congressman expressed the pride of his Ukrainian heritage and spoke of his trip to Ukraine in the summer of 2016 to visit his ancestral roots. Rep. Harris stressed the resiliency of the Ukrainian people and clearly stated that Congress, on a bi-partisan basis, will stand with Ukraine to defend its sovereignty and independence.

In conjunction with each advocacy event, the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS) presents the “Friend of UNIS” award to those in Washington who have promoted or advocated for sustained support for Ukraine. This year, several Members of Congress were recognized for their support: Congressional Ukrainian Caucus co-chair Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) - for herleadership at the helm of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus and numerous initiatives in support of Ukraine; and, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) - for his sponsorship of the Crimean Annexation Non-Recognition Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The two awardees highlighted their work in Congress for defending international principles of freedom and sovereignty, noting that increased Russian aggression in the region must be stopped.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United State, H.E. Valeriy Chaliy, was introduced and expressed his “gratitude to the U.S. Congress for its support of Ukraine throughout Ukraine’s 25 years of independence,” but most noticeably since the Revolution of Dignity. The ambassador acknowledged the increased levels of assistance to Ukraine in past years and urged increased measures to assist Ukraine in its reform efforts and security challenges. Immediately following, UCCA President Andrew Futey and Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) President Eugene Czolij provided words of thanks and encouragement to the community participants of the “Ukrainian Days” advocacy event, and especially to Members of Congress for hearing our community’s pleas for assistance toUkraine.

Every four years, the UCCA presents the “Shevchenko Freedom Award” to those who have excelled in their support of Ukraine-related issues and took an active role in shaping policy towardsUkraine. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) was unable to attend the UCCA Congress in Hartford last year and was presented the award at the “Ukrainian Days” reception in Washington. The senator was introduced by former UCCA President Tamara Olexy, who spoke of the senator’s many accomplishments in advancing Ukraine-related issues in Congress. In his remarks, the senator thanked theConnecticut community for their activism on Ukraine and pledged that he, along with his colleagues, will stand with Ukraine in its time of need.

Many congressional staffers and guests such as the Syrian American community and representatives from the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) were in attendance at the reception. The CEEC is a coalition of Central and East European national ethnic organizations which represent between 20-22 million Americans, and has been an ardent supporter of Ukraine and its struggles against Russian aggression.

On Thursday morning, advocacy participants divided into two groups to attend a House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) hearing entitled: “Undermining Democratic Institutions and Splintering NATO: Russian Disinformation Aims” and a briefing with Ukraine-desk officials at the U.S. Department of State. Both occasions were an opportunity for the community to acquaint themselves with U.S. foreign policy objectives in the legislative and executive branches.  Testifying that morning at the HFAC hearing were: His Excellency Toomas Hendrik Ilves (former President of the Republic of Estonia); the Honorable Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr., Chairman Emeritus and Distinguished Fellow at The Stimson Center (former Assistant Secretary for Political Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State); Mr. Peter B. Doran, Executive Vice President at the Center for European Policy Analysis; and, The Honorable Daniel Baer (former U.S. Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Members of Congress questioned the witnesses about Russia’s disinformation campaign in Europe to de-stabilize the NATO alliance and other European allies.

The two-day advocacy event concluded with a briefing session at the Embassy of Ukraine. Amb. Chaliy greeted the“Ukrainian Days” participants and thanked them for their endeavors to advocate for greater assistance to Ukraine, and for not forgetting about the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula. UWC President Eugene Czolij and UCCA President Andrew Futey expressed their gratitude for the efforts of everyone to come to Washington to promote the concerns of the community and seek further assistance from the U.S. government. UNIS Director Sawkiw noted in his comments that ‘all politics is local’ and “Ukrainian Days” must continue on a local level through regular meetings with elected officials, as well as to harness the local media to disseminate information about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. A group photo ended the briefing session at the Ukrainian Embassy.

March 9th is known as “Shevchenko Day” as it is the birthdate of Ukraine’s greatest bard, Taras Shevchenko. The “Ukrainian Days” participants and Embassy of Ukraine personnel assembled at the Shevchenko Memorial in Washington, DC to honor the 19th century ardent defender of Ukraine’s freedom and independence. Flowers were laid at the monument by the ambassador of Ukraineand his spouse Ludmilla, as well as by UWC President Eugene Czolij and UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw. His Excellency John Bura offered a prayer for peace in Ukraine, while Amb. Chaliy and Mr. Czolij presented brief remarks on the life and work of Taras Shevchenko. The day concluded with the singing of the Ukrainian National Anthem and a group photo with the ambassador ofUkraine and “Ukrainian Days” participants.

All “Ukrainian Days” activities were posted on social media sights such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under #UkrDays2017. The next “Ukrainian Days” advocacy event will be held in June 2017 and will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

 

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