The following column discusses the work of the Helsinki Commission beginning in the late 1980s, as the Soviet empire began to unravel, to the present day. Part 1 of this two-part series, which ran in the May 30 issue of The Ukrainian Weekly, discussed the work of the Helsinki Commission from its founding up to the late 1980s.
As a volunteer at the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, I often come across some curious items. Consider, for example, a 1950s membership application to join the “Organization of Elderly Ukrainians” in Detroit, Mich.; “eligibility beginning at age 40…”
Forty-five years ago on June 3, 1976, over the strong, and thankfully unsuccessful, objection of Henry Kissinger’s State Department, a bill creating the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, commonly known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was signed into law. For more than 35 of those 45 years, I had the privilege to work for this small U.S. government agency located on Capitol Hill, which promotes peace, security, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The work was meaningful and fulfilling, and reflected many of the values I was raised with, including in my grade-school through grad-school Catholic education.
Thirty-five years ago, the word Chornobyl first entered our lexicon and left an indelible mark on the world’s consciousness. This catastrophe, the largest nuclear accident in history, had monumental health, environmental, social, political and economic consequences that linger to this day.
The recent buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine once again brought the question of Ukraine’s path to NATO to the forefront. Even though Russia decided to pull back their troops, the threat remains constant. One can only speculate whether this simply was a military exercise whose goals were completed, as Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claims, or whether Russian President Vladimir Putin actually blinked, as some pundits would have us believe.
I had never before heard of Yulian Dorosh (1909-1982). Who, you might ask? Well, Dorosh was a distinguished Ukrainian cultural figure, I recently learned, a pioneering filmmaker and photographer starting in 1920s, 1930s and active his entire life.
Every year, around March 9 (the date of his birth in 1814) and March 10 (the date of his death in 1861), Ukrainians throughout the world celebrate the life and legacy of Ukraine’s national bard, Taras Shevchenko.
Part 2. Any successful relationship requires both parties to do their part. This maxim applies to the U.S.-Ukraine partnership as it does to any other. While there is still plenty of work ahead, the prospects are encouraging.
There is no doubt that Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in November’s presidential election was welcomed by the vast majority of Canadians. After all, in a poll held during the last month of the campaign in which Canadians were hypothetically asked how they would vote, 84 percent of decided respondents picked Mr. Biden. But two executive orders Mr. Biden signed right after his inauguration have caused considerable concern. One of these is the “Buy American” policy setting up rules for U.S. government spending, which added a caveat that exceptions to those rules will be allowed only under “very limited circumstances.
The advent of the Biden Administration brings with it the promise of more robust ties between the United States and Ukraine. No incoming U.S. president has had the knowledge and track record of support and commitment for Ukraine that President Joe Biden does. His foreign policy team is also second to none when it comes to Ukraine. This especially holds true at the State Department, where the three most senior officials – Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and especially Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland – all have familiarity with Ukraine and the challenges it faces, external as well as domestic. Also, the many officials below this level who deal with Ukraine on a daily basis, and therefore are critical in the formulation and execution of Ukraine policy, are among the best that I have seen.