Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“The war in the Donbas is a war that Ukraine needs to win”

Ambassador Marie YOVANOVITCH urged the Ukrainian leadership to continue reforms to be a strong partner of the US
1 August, 2017 - 11:49
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

As a strategic partner of Ukraine, the United States of America has been supporting this country since it proclaimed independence. The US has imposed sanctions against the Russian Federation for both the illegal annexation of Crimea and the aggression in eastern Ukraine. Congress is now preparing new tough sanctions against Russia which is not willing to drop its aggressive course and continues to violate international law. Hence, it is no wonder that students of the Den’s Summer School of Journalism showed a keen interest in meeting the US Ambassador Marie YOVANOVITCH who found time to communicate with them as a lector. In her opening statement, she thanked the students for finding time in their rigid schedule to meet her. Then she began the conversation with telling about herself.


“I am, what we call, a career diplomat, which means that I’ve been a diplomat for many years, I think 31 years. I have arrived to Ukraine last summer. It’s almost a year that I’ve been here. I was here before. I was here from 2001 to 2004, for three years also working at the embassy. For me it’s very interesting to come back because while of course Ukrainians are the experts on Ukraine, I think since I was away I notice the changes. Maybe some people who live in Ukraine don’t see these changes because people live here day to day. It’s like watching a child grow. Maybe this isn’t the right analogy. If you are in the house the entire time you don’t notice the changes but if you come back after 6 months or, certainly 10 years, you are going to notice them. That’s my prospective.

“When I was here before it was a great country with warm people, lots of things going on but it was only 10 years after independence. I certainly know where our country was 10 years after independence. It takes a long time to develop a country one wants it to be. I think that a lot of people were looking West, they wanted to live in a democracy, to have market economy and so forth. But they didn’t always know how to make that happen. Sometimes people didn’t have the skills and they thought that this is something that would come later maybe for their children. When I came back in 2016, two years after the Maidan, the biggest difference for me was in the people I met. I met people who had been studying abroad, had lots of experience working at investment banks and top law firms, working for management consulting firms. They knew all about how to make Ukraine a stronger economy, a market economy that is integrated into the EU. People made it pretty clear in 2014 politically what their values were and where they saw the country of Ukraine going.

“There was a sense when I arrived in 2016, and certainly true before, that the time for change is now. This is something that cannot wait and we have to do it now. We are not going to wait for somebody else to come in and do the work, we are not going to ask the West to come and do all the work, we are going to make these changes. I found this very inspiring. First of all to see all the changes that have happened already and to see what people are doing day in day out to implement that vision and the dream that the Ukrainian people have. It is really an honor for me, and I think for many people at the US Embassy, it’s an honor for us to be here at such a historic time in Ukraine’s history. It’s a wonderful thing for me also as an Ambassador that Ukraine interests and US interests are very much aligned.

“I think it’s in Ukrainian interest to have a strong economy that is integrated into Europe’s economy. I think it’s in your interest if you have an open democratic system of governance that is accountable to the people. I think it’s in your interest if you have a strong security system that can protect and defend your borders that can protect and defend Ukrainian people. I think it’s in American interest as well. If Ukraine is a strong democracy with a strong economy, secure in its place in Europe that makes a strong partner for the United States. It is in our interest to help you develop in this direction as long as that’s what you want.

“We’ve got a great Embassy and a lot of people who are very motivated to partner with Ukraine going forward. I’m going to stop on that note and take your questions and comments. You can tell me I am wrong.”


Anton SESTRITSYN, Carleton University, Ottawa: “It is symbolic that our meeting is happening today, on the first anniversary of the assassination of Pavlo Sheremet, a famous journalist here in Ukraine. Today’s issue of the newspaper Den includes an article devoted to this case. The article quotes Sheremet who once publicly stated that ‘we should not calm down until the case of Gongadze is fully investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice.’ You are familiar with one of the books from Den’s Library called A Case without a Statute of Limitations, which describes the infamous case of Gongadze-Podolsky-Yeliashkevych. The bottom line is that for 17 years Ukraine’s law-enforcement system provides impunity to those who order ‘big murders.’ The recent murder of Sheremet is certainly very important, however, why do you think the case of Gongadze-Podolsky-Yeliashkevych is still unresolved?”

M.Y.: “I am not a law-enforcement professional obviously. I think that it is important that anybody who lose their life through violence, anybody who is assassinated that those cases be solved and resolved and the justice is done. I think it is important for the memory of this individual, but also for the family and those around that person that loved and respected them. In every country there are certain cases that really capture the imagination. We can never forget that whether it’s Sheremet or Gongadze, that these are individuals who have become in some ways much bigger than themselves because they represent something to all of you and to the greater public. It is important to continue to pursue a resolution to these cases so that justice is done.

“How exactly one goes about it? I don’t know. But one of the ways is what you all are doing: by asking questions, by raising awareness, by writing articles. Some of you were probably at the memorial and the march this morning [the interview was recorded on July 20]. I think that is one of the ways that one let’s authorities know that this is important to Ukrainian public. I think in both cases it has to do with wider themes of freedom of the press and of individuals who were investigative journalists and were unafraid of speaking truth to power, putting that in writing and holding people to account. The least that we can do for them, since they have contributed so much to the society, is to hold their killers to account.”


Vitalii KUDYRKO, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “Not long ago you were present at the meeting between President Poroshenko and President Trump at the White House. How would you describe the atmosphere in which the meeting took place? Was President Poroshenko successful in persuading the US president in the importance of supporting Ukraine and helping it to restore its territorial integrity?”

M.Y.: “The meeting, as you probably saw in media and from the photos, took place in the Oval office of the White House. I can’t speak for anybody else but certainly for me there is always a feeling of awe, when you are at the White House in the Oval office. There is a special feeling to meetings like that and this one was no different in that respect. I thought it was an excellent meeting. All of the subjects were covered during the meeting. President Poroshenko got a very strong message of support from President Trump, Vice President Pence, and other members of the Cabinet. It was very clearly articulated that the US strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Ilona LOZHENKO, Kyiv National I.K. Karpenko-Kary Theatre, Cinema, and Television University: “Many say that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements. We consider them to be a big trouble for Ukraine. Yes they stopped the initial bloodshed but overall the conflict is unresolved and Ukrainian soldiers die on daily basis. In his Twitter President Trump wrote: ‘Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until Ukrainian and Syrian problems are resolved.’ What did President Trump mean by that? Is the appointment of Kurt Volker as a special representative of State Department for Ukraine negotiations a step towards resolving a conflict in eastern Ukraine? When will status quo force Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and return to international legal framework?”

M.Y.: “I think that it is a really positive signal for Ukraine and other countries that are following the issues here that Ambassador Volker was appointed as a special negotiator for Ukraine conflicts. I’ve known him for a long time and he is someone with a lot of experience and expertise in this part of the world. I think that he is bringing a real energy to thinking about what should the next steps be. About 10 days ago he was appointed and within 24 hours he was on airplane to join Secretary Tillerson here. Secretary Tillerson had an opportunity to introduce him to President Poroshenko and others and share a little bit about their thinking on this. I think that this is a hugely important thing. Ambassador Volker will have an opportunity to travel again to Ukraine and visit the ATO and see things for himself. He is going to want to consult with certainly the Germans and the French and other countries to find out what their thought are and he is going to think hard about what the way forward would be.

“Clearly, we have something that’s hugely important in the Minsk Agreements, which is documents signed by the parties of the conflict, including Russia, which is a party to the conflict as far as we are concerned. Russia has signed those agreements. I know that the Minsk Agreements are controversial with some but actually all the elements of what you need to resolve a conflict are there but as I say in arms control and negotiations the devil is in the details. How are you going to flesh things out so that everyone will agree to it and that it brokers a real peace. I think what Ambassador Volker is going to be doing is discussing with others where the areas of commonality are and how we can move forward. Secretary Tillerson has noted that we have two goals. First is to secure Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The second goal is to preserve and protect the security of all Ukrainians regardless of their ethnicity, language preference, and religion. Ambassador Volker will be looking to see how he can move these goals forward. I wouldn’t want to make a prediction about time. I think that it was very clear to me that when Secretary Tillerson was here that he wants to move forward as fast as possible in a constructive manner. The US view is that this is a conflict that has gone for 3+ years, there is fighting every day, people are dying and the issue has to be resolved.

“Nobody discussed lifting sanctions. Our US policy is very clear – sanctions on Russia are not going to be lifted until Russia does what it needs to do. There is a set of sanctions related to Crimea and there is a set of sanctions related to the Donbas and Russia needs to take steps in order for the international community to lift these sanctions.”

Marina LIBERT, Free University of Brussels: “Reuters reports that an undisclosed meeting between President Trump and Putin took place during the G20 summit in Hamburg. The meeting is said to be less formal and was attended by Donald Trump, Putin, and his translator. How would you comment this? What did the presidents talk about during the second meeting?”

M.Y.: “Honestly I do not know. I know as much as you know from the media. Leaders are the same as all other people. If there is a table like this, maybe a little bit bigger and fancier, if I were to come over and talk to some of you it would be normal. I think leaders do the same thing as well. We’ve all seen pictures of G7 meetings. Leaders are no different than all of us. They do talk to each other, sometimes in unscripted ways.”


Maria HORSHKOVA, Khmelnytskyi National University: “Ukraine counted on President Obama to visit Kyiv during his tenure. He did not. Today we see that President Trump has just visited Poland. Many agree that President Donald Trump should visit Ukraine and further demonstrate the support of the US. What do you think about this idea?”

M.Y.: “It would be great if President Trump would visit Ukraine. I am the Ambassador to Ukraine, of course I agree with you that this would be wonderful. Secretary Tillerson was just here, as you know. He came right after the set of meetings that we have been talking about, the bilateral meetings with Putin at the G20 meeting in Hamburg. This was an important signal. Our Secretary of State could have gone literally anywhere in the world but he came to Ukraine to have a meeting not only with President Poroshenko, but also with members of civil society and business. It was his first visit to Ukraine so he learned a little bit more about the country. His visit signaled the strong support that the US has for a strong and independent Ukraine. That was a very strong message, if you will. We provide on a daily basis, or even hourly sometimes, strong support for Ukraine through our assistance programs, through our political and security support so I think that it is clear that Ukraine and the United States are strong partners, we have been for 25 years. This year we are celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations. There have been ups and downs as there is always are but I think in year 25 the relationship is strong and enduring.”

A.S.: “In March 2017 the Parliament of Ukraine has adopted a resolution calling on the US Senate to grant Ukraine a major non-NATO ally status. What has been the Senate’s reaction? Is there an ongoing dialog in this sphere?”

M.Y.: “I am unaware that the Senate has responded in a substantive way. I don’t speak for the Senate, as you know. In our democracy there are different branches of government. The Ukrainian side has also shared with the executive branch that that is a desire on the part of the government of Ukraine. I think that obviously we always take seriously the requests of our partner countries. I would just say that this request is under consideration.”

I.L.: “Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have expressed pessimism that long-stalled Russia sanctions legislation will be passed before lawmakers leave for August break. For example, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) stated that adding North Korea to the package has only complicated the process of adopting the legislation. What is your comment on this?”

M.Y.: “I really don’t know. What I would say is that sanctions bill that was recently passed in the Senate sends a very strong signal about how the American people through their elected representatives in the Senate feel about their support for Ukraine and their belief that what Russia has done is wrong that one does not just invade a country and change borders indiscriminately and so I think that when the Senate voted 99-1 that’s a strong message of support for Ukraine.”


Liubov RYBALKO, Odesa Ilia Mechnikov National University: “Lately President Poroshenko emphasizes the importance of obtaining Membership Action Plan from NATO. How realistic are Ukraine’s NATO aspirations in the current circumstances?”

M.Y.: “NATO has a very strong relationship with Ukraine and, as you may be aware, about a week ago the NATO Secretary General and the representatives of NATO members travelled to Ukraine to meet Ukrainian leaders, including President Poroshenko. And it was a great opportunity for NATO members to learn more about Ukraine and to discuss all the issues on the table. Last year President Poroshenko signed the strategic bulletin, which is basically a policy document, outlining the steps that Ukraine is going to take with regard to the development of its military structures. The goal that President Poroshenko and others have stated is NATO interoperability by the year 2020. I believe it’s an ambitious goal, and I think it’s good because it pushes.

“We are working with the Ukrainian military, we have a very robust relationship on the security side to help not only increase capabilities, but also to help Ukraine move forward on the reform side on issues like civilian control of the military, various structures that would make it more compatible with NATO structures and so forth.

“And I think focus of the discussion should be on how Ukraine is moving forward not only with regard to its capabilities, but also with regard to transforming its military into a Western style military that is interoperable across the board with NATO countries.

“That is hugely important for Ukraine’s stated aspirations. The other thing I would like to say is that when we think about NATO we often focus on the military side of this issue but what makes NATO the most successful alliance, frankly in the history of the world, is because it’s much more than just a military alliance it’s an alliance of like-minded democracies who share the same values.

“I am not saying these things are always smooth, because they never are in any alliance, but we share the same values and we come at things from the same point of view and we work at our issues so that when there are challenges that require a military solution we are still lockstep as we move through those decision-making process and the actual military solution.

“That requires societies that are democratic and have democratic values, where governance is transparent and accountable. There is the military side of the transformation process but there is also the civilian side and both of these processes are going to be important moving forward.”


Natalia SANDAKOVA, Odesa Ilia Mechnikov National University: “During his visit to Washington President Poroshenko told Fox News that Ukraine is going to purchase American coal and natural gas. How is it going to work in practice? Has Ukraine signed any contracts?”

M.Y.: “The purchase of coal is a commercial venture. It’s not something that the US decides with Ukraine. Obviously we are always supportive of companies buying American products, whether its coal or whether it’s something else but that is a commercial transaction between Ukrainian company and an American company so I don’t have the details on that.”

Bohdana KAPITSA, National University of Ostroh Academy: “US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is planning to visit Kyiv in August. What issues is he planning to discuss with Ukrainian officials? Can Ukraine count on US support in countering the construction of Nord Stream 2?”

M.Y.: “There has been no announcement with regard to the visit of the US Secretary of Energy to Ukraine, so I can’t really comment on the possible visit of Secretary Perry. With regard to Nord Stream 2, the US strongly opposes to Nord stream 2. We have stated for years, and this has been the subject of many diplomatic efforts, that Nord Stream 2 is not in the security interest of Europe, certainly not in Ukraine’s interest. When you concentrate all of your supplies in one country, whether it’s Russia or any other country, you are making yourself very vulnerable. We believe in multiple pipelines from multiple sources, so that countries have energy diversity and energy choices.”


Oksana SKILSKA, Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University: “During your last interview with Den/The Day you outlined the issues what Ukraine needs to do for big American investors to come to our market. Has anything changed? Are American investors interested in investing in certain industries in our economy?”

M.Y.: “Yes, there are many American investors here. Yesterday I was in Brovary where I was invited by the Coca-Cola Company to see their plant. It’s the largest in Europe, it’s a huge and a very modern facility. And what is most impressive to me is that not only is the company profitable but it takes its corporate responsibility very seriously. They try very hard to be a clean company, to do very innovative things on the energy side. This is really quite interesting from many points of view. They also have a very active outreach program for disadvantaged children and other sorts of programs.

“There are many other active American investors in Ukraine and we have an ongoing dialog with many of them. American companies, and also Ukrainian companies, are looking for a level playing field, they are looking for a justice system that works; so if you have a business dispute you can go to a court of law and be heard out. They are looking for a clean environment that is transparent where corruption is not part of the daily work environment. Companies have choices as to where they might invest or where they may do business. Corruption holds back foreign investment in Ukraine.

“First and foremost, I think, Ukraine needs to tackle these important reform issues because it’s good for Ukraine, it’s good for all of you, but it’s also good for business and if there is more foreign investment in Ukraine there will be more jobs and the economy will grow and the Ukrainian people will be better off.”


Maria NYTKA, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “Recently Fox News published an article, which compares corruption in Ukraine with cancer and insists that it is worse than the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. Do you agree with this statement? How would you evaluate the effectiveness of anti-corruption reforms? What steps should be taken next to tackle corruption?”

M.Y.: “To be clear I have not read this article. I will answer the question but not in reference to that specific article. I think that the issues of corruption and the state of the justice system are the two most critical issues and they are intertwined.

“I think it’s important that more progress should be made in this regard because whether it’s, you know, medical students paying for medical degrees. Personally, I want to go to a doctor that has actually studied and earned that degree.

“Whether it’s in universities, whether it’s when you go to a hospital and you have to provide extra payments. It’s small level corruption but there is also larger level of corruption that affects governments, governmental systems, and business transactions. I think it’s important that these efforts continue to be made. At the same it’s important to remember that Ukraine has made a lot of progress in the last three years in these areas. It isn’t perfect now but it is transparent, it is electronic and there are fewer opportunities to corrupt the system. So there are many examples of what has been instituted during the last three years. But I think it’s important to keep on going in order for all of you to live in a country you want to live in as adults. While progress has been made more progress is needed.

“And, actually I didn’t answer the first part of your question. The war in the Donbas is hugely important and this is a war that Ukraine needs to win. There is no question about that because this is about territorial integrity and sovereignty.

“But there is also the fight against corruption here, as you know, which is also just as important because it’s about the future of Ukraine and what kind of country Ukraine will be in the future. If there isn’t more transparency this country will continue to be under the influence of Russia because there will be ways to pull levers that are not transparent to anybody sitting in this room. For Ukraine to be a truly independent, westward looking country, I think, it’s actually critically important that Ukraine’s governance and systems are transparent.”

Mykola SIRUK: “What can be done to free Ukrainian journalists who are imprisoned in Russia?”

M.Y.: “Keep doing what you are doing. Put the spotlight on those cases.”

Den’s Summer School of Journalism is supported by NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine.

By Anton SESTRITSYN, Carleton University, Ottawa; Marina LIBERT, Free University of Brussels; Mykola SIRUK, The Day