Since President Obama signed into law the Ukraine Freedom Support Act (UFSA) on December 18, 2014, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and its Washington, DC public affairs bureau, the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), have been monitoring the implementation of the law. Within a framework of advocacy programs in 2014 to promote passage of the UFSA bill that would assist Ukraine in deterring Russia’s invasion and defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, UNIS organized the first in what will most-likely become a series of “Ukrainian Days” advocacy events on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. The intent of “Ukrainian Days” was to promote the Ukrainian community’s concerns about the slow, if not negligible, implementation of the law, as well as to establish better contacts with its elected representatives in Washington.
Nearly fifty community activists from throughout the United States participated in the advocacy event, which began with an opportunity to experience a congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). Prior to the hearing, UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw, Jr. underscored that such advocacy events are essential for expanding the community’s influence on U.S. policy toward Ukraine. “Now our community has a chance to develop a closer relationship with our friends in Congress, as well as with newly-elected Members of Congress. It is incumbent upon the United States to demonstrate support for Ukraine through the implementation of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, and Ukraine’s reform process. There are many important tasks that still lie ahead,” stated Mr. Sawkiw.
Testifying that morning at the HFAC hearing entitled “Ukraine under Siege” was Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, the Honorable Victoria Nuland. Members of Congress questioned the Administration’s implementation of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, inquired about military assistance to Ukraine, and probed about additional sanctions against Russia for the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continuous onslaught invasion of Eastern Ukraine.
During the day, community representatives split into groups and held meetings with their various congressional and senatorial offices, among them: Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ); Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ); Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY); Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA); Rep, Mike Turner (R-OH); Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-NY); Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA); Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA); Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY); Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus; Rep. Michael Hanna (R-NY); Rep, Matt Cartwright (D-PA); Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA); Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY); Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC); Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA); Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY); Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA); Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH); Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC); Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA); Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY); and, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).
A special meeting was arranged with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, at which UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw, Jr. and Andrew Horbachewsky, Chairman of the Board of the SUM-A Yonkers Federal Credit Union, presented the ardent supporter of Ukraine the “Friend of UNIS” award. The award is an opportunity to recognize and thank those who have provided leadership and have shown unwavering support of the Ukrainian American community’s concerns.
The successful daytime advocacy event was bolstered by an evening reception at the Embassy of Lithuania, where the Ukrainian National Information Service presented two “Friend of UNIS” awards. “Ukrainian Days” participants were warmly welcomed at the Lithuanian Embassy. H.E. Zygimantis Pavilionis, Lithuania’s ambassador to the United States, welcomed the Ukrainian American community representatives and urged them to continue their advocacy for the implementation of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act.
The common theme throughout the evening reception was: ‘Your struggle is our struggle!’ With that, H.E. Pavilionis requested the advocacy participants to make a short video clip entitled “We believe in freedom.” The video was broadcast throughout Lithuania to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw, Jr. presented the “Friend of UNIS” award to H.E. Pavilionis for his staunch support of Ukraine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vICiVRym-Os&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, H.E. Oleksandr Motsyk, also took to the podium to deliver a few remarks. “We have a common goal before us. We are all striving to integrate Ukraine in EuroAtlantic structures and return its former status of a prominent European state. Together, I am confident we will successfully resolve our issues,” stated Amb. Motsyk in his remarks.
The second “Friend of UNIS” award was presented to the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) for its staunch support of Ukraine throughout the EuroMiadan, Revolution of Dignity, and invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Coalition members took turns at the podium expressing their solidarity with the Ukrainian community with slogans such as: “We are in this together. Your fight, is our fight!” The CEEC embodies 18 national ethnic organizations that represent nearly 22 million Americans of Central and East European descent. The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America was a founding member of the CEEC in 1994. Together, the CEEC and the UCCA have co-sponsored advocacy events in Washington, DC. and issued policy briefs that summarize issues the CEEC ardently advocates.
UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw also introduced Mr. Ivan Radichenko, a volunteer with the 25th Volunteer Battalion “Kyiv Rus’” about the role of volunteers in defending Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and independence. Following the formal presentations, “Ukrainian Days” participants were hosted to traditional Lithuanian fare, and sampled Lithuanian beverages and Georgian wine.
In all of the advocacy meetings on Capitol Hill, the participants of “Ukrainian Days” presented Members of Congress with various policy papers on issues of importance to the implementation of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act (UFSA), as well as informational brochures about the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the Ukrainian National Information Service, and the Ukrainian Genocide of 1932- 1933. Policy paper topics included: an overview of the UFSA law; Military Assistance to Ukraine; Economic Sanctions against Russia; lists of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus and the newly-formed Senate Ukraine Caucus; and an overview of Russian aggression in Ukraine and their human rights violations, as evidenced by the detention of Nadiya Savchenko and other Ukrainian POW’s. A complete list of congressional actions to support newly-introduced bills and resolutions in support of Ukraine was also included in the advocacy folder.
Understanding that not everyone was able to attend the “Ukrainian Day” advocacy event in early March, the Ukrainian American community is urged to make every effort to meet with their elected officials at their respective district offices. Copies of the policy papers presented at “Ukrainian Days” can be obtained at the Ukrainian National Information Service. Due to a chance early March snowstorm in the Washington, DC region that closed the U.S. federal government, the second day of the “Ukrainian Days” advocacy event had to be postponed for a future date. The second day events were to consist of a congressional breakfast meeting with the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, as well as a rally in support of Ukraine in front of the White House. Details regarding the new date and time of the White House rally are pending. Additional photos and information can be found on the UNIS Facebook page and Twitter feed - #UkrDays2015.
Ukrainian National Information Service