WASHINGTON – Among the major events that brought Ukraine into the spotlight in the U.S. capital in the middle of June – in addition to the visit here by President Petro Poroshenko and his meeting with President Donald Trump, and the visit a few days earlier by the chairman of Ukraine’s Parliament, Andriy Parubiy – was the June 14 Ukrainian Day on Capitol Hill.
It was a day-long event of advocacy meetings between representatives of Ukrainian American communities and members of Congress, focusing on getting continued and stronger U.S. support for Ukraine in its battle against Russian aggression, the strengthening of Ukraine’s political and economic reform programs, and Ukraine’s ongoing integration into the Western world.
The highlight of that day was the evening congressional reception at the Capitol Visitor Center, which – as the director of the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), Michael Sawkiw, pointed out at the outset – marked the 20th anniversary of formation of that Congressional Ukrainian Caucus.
“This should be a jubilant time for us as the Ukrainian American community is thanking our members of Congress who understood 20 years ago the need for the formation of a group of members of Congress on a bipartisan basis to act on behalf of the improvement of relations between Ukraine and the United States,” Mr. Sawkiw said. He introduced Congressman Sander Levin (D-Mich.), an organizer of that caucus, and presented him with the Friend of UNIS Award for his “leadership and staunch support of Ukraine’s independence.”
Accepting the award, Rep. Levin noted that he and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) had discussed Ukrainian issues well before they established the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, and that she pointed out the Ukrainian people had given their message to the world, and especially Russia, that “Ukraine is a country determined that human rights will be the right of every single citizen of the country of Ukraine.”
“There’s a lot of sound and fire here,” Rep. Levin said. “I think the determination of most of us is very, very clear. And that is: that the struggle for democracy in Ukraine is going to have the full support of the American people and, surely, much of the Congress.”
Rep. Levin is also known for initiating the congressional resolution authorizing the building of the Holodomor Memorial to the victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 in Washington. Since its dedication November 7, 2015, it has been visited by President Poroshenko and Verkhovna Rada Chairman Parubiy, among others.
Mr. Parubiy was among the honored guests at the Ukrainian Day reception. In his address to the gathering, he noted that Ukrainians have had positive feelings about America for a very long time, valuing the principles of democracy and freedom on which the United States was established. And this attitude, he noted, can be found in the works of their poet laureate Taras Shevchenko.
He pointed out that tens of thousands of Ukrainian came to America in the 19th century, followed by hundreds of thousands in the 20th. They went to America not just to make money, he said. “They came to a country where dignity and freedom are the most important values.”
Russia remains “the enemy number one for the free world of democratic countries,” much it was earlier as Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and now as the “Putin empire,” he said. Ukraine now is in the front line of defending the whole world, he underscored.
“And I would like to express to you our gratitude for the support that Ukraine received for those 20 years” since the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus was founded, Mr. Parubiy said.
Earlier that day, 97 of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate voted for a resolution to strengthen the sanctions against Russia, he noted. “And this carries with it a huge symbolic value for Ukraine at this stage of our fight.”
Ukraine’s success against Russia is a key to restoring global security order, he said. “We have no doubt that we will win, because the victory for Ukraine is the victory of all of the free and democratic world.”
Another prominent Ukrainian government official addressing the Ukrainian Day reception was acting Minister of Health Ulana Suprun, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who came to the United States after World War II. She grew up in Detroit, where she was active in the Ukraine community, then moved with her husband to an independent Ukraine, where they helped treat the wounded during the 2014 Maidan revolution and were awarded Ukrainian citizenship. Last year she was appointed the acting minister of health.
“Since that time we’ve done a lot of reforms, and health care reform is actually in the forefront of all the reforms that are happening now,“ she told the Ukrainian Day gathering, adding, “We need to stand firm, because we need to make sure that those steps forward that were taken in Ukraine over the last three years don’t fall back.”
As for the current conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine, Dr. Suprun pointed out that 15 Ukrainian solders died in the first 15 days of June on that eastern front, and more than 50 were injured.
“There’s no frozen conflict. It’s an active war that’s going on. And I want to commend my nation and my country for doing important reforms in the middle of a war,” she said.
Rep. Kaptur, who joined with her colleague Rep. Levin 20 years ago in establishing the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, in her emotional remarks at the gathering called on all Americans to be staunch in their support freedom and liberty for all.
“We have to understand that, as Americans, each generation is asked to, in its own way, fight for liberty. And we have to make a choice whether we are going to embrace that cause, or we are going to turn our back and walk away from it,” she said.
“By being here tonight you’ve embraced that cause, you’re making a difference in what this Congress does in both chambers. And we need you. We need your understanding. We need your commitment,” she said.
Also participating in the congressional reception were: former Rep. Donald Ritter (R-Pa.), Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Miller, Ambassador of Lithuania Rolandas Kriščiūnas and the deputy chiefs of mission of Norway, Estonia and Poland.
On the Ukrainian American side, among the participating prominent leaders were the president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Andriy Futey, and its current executive director, Tamara Olexy. Organizers indicated that also present were representatives of Ukrainian communities from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, California, Oregon, Illinois, New Hampshire and, possibly, others.
UNIS Director Sawkiw concluded the evening by expressing a special thank-you to the Philadelphia Ukrainian Heritage School and its Youth Civics Group. Inviting their group of seven young student activists to the front of the hall, he noted: “They will be on the forefront in the next generation, leading the good fight of Ukraine.“