MICHIGAN STATE UKRAINIANS AT UKRAINE DAYS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Warren, MI, March 10, 2017… Ukrainian Americans of Michigan sent a strong delegation to Washington, D.C. on March 8-9, 2017 to participate in the first of several “Ukraine Days” planned for 2017. Ukraine Days is a long standing national initiative of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America/Ukrainian National Information Service (UCCA)/(UNIS) that provides for Ukrainian communities to collectively converge on Washington, D.C., to simultaneously conduct meetings with their members of Congress and to hold a number of joint events during two day of planned advocacy.
This year nearly one hundred community representatives from a multitude of states came together to advocate on behalf of legislation pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate: H.Res.88 Calling on the Russia Federation to Stop the Violence in Ukraine,H.R.1059 Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017, H.R.463 Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act,H.R.830 STAND for Ukraine Act, S.94 Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, S.Res.54 Expressing Unwavering Commitment of the United States to NATO, and S.341 Russian Sanctions Review Act of 2017.
Significantly, on March 8, 2017, the first of the two Ukraine Days, the United States House of Representatives approved a bill authorizing $150 million for defense aid to Ukraine including lethal weapons under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. A total of 371 lawmakers out of total 435 voted for the measure.
The six member delegation from Michigan was organized by the President of the UCCA MI Chapter, Vasyl Perets, and Membership Committee Chair, Michael Andriashko. The trip was sponsored by a generous donation from the Ukrainian Future Credit Union, Vera Kuzyj President and Andrew Jakymowych CEO.
The delegation targeted both MI Senators: Gary Peters (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D) and three Representatives: Sander Levin (D 9), Debbie Dingell (D 12), and Dan Kildee (D 5). Senator Peters is a member of the Senate Ukraine Caucus (SUC) and Representatives Levin, Dingell and Kildee are members of the Congressional (House) Ukrainian Caucus (CUC), with Rep. Levin serving as CUC Co-Chair from its inception in 1997.The Ukrainian Michigan community also played a key role in the founding of the Senate Ukraine Caucus in 2015.
Delegation members were direct and forthright in sharing their hopes and fears for Ukraine.Fr. Valeriy Kandyuk, pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church noted that his parish was the first Ukrainian church in Michigan, established 110 years ago. “Having a priest that is a new immigrant directly from Ukraine serve as pastor to the oldest Ukrainian church in MI with many parishioners going back five generations, underscores the unity of Ukrainians throughout the world,” he said. Similarly, Mykhalo Dyachun, also a new immigrant, noted how inspiring it is for himself and other Ukrainian immigrants that to be a part of a community that has so many members who were born in Michigan but who care so deeply about their ancestral homeland. On their parts, Yarosalv and Michael Andriashko, noted that their father helped build the Mackinac Bridge, (at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world linking Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas). “Our Dad and his whole generation of WWII political refugees that fled to America from Soviet Russian tyranny taught us to love America and to never forget Ukraine. Today, it is time for our fellow Americans to understand that Ukraine is as important to the US as the US is important to Ukraine.” Roman Zubar and Borys Potapenko, both native Michiganians, stressed the importance of continued bi-partisan support for Ukraine in Congress. “The critical role of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus and the Senate Ukraine Caucus in maintaining the unprecedented unity of Republicans and Democrats on Ukraine cannot be over emphasized”, Zubar stressed.
Sen. Peters, Rep. Levin, Rep. Dingell and Rep. Kildee made clear their commitment to support all of the legislation currently before Congress, including strong support for providing lethal weapons to Ukraine. Senator Stabenow’s senior advisers said that the senator will give very serious consideration to relevant bills before the Senate as well as joining SUC noting “Senator Stabenow is a strong supporter of Ukraine and the Ukrainian community in Michigan.”Members of the delegation also met with Herman Pirchner and Ilan Berman, President and Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, respectively.
Former Ambassadors John Herbst and William Courtney of the Atlantic Council and other Ukraine experts briefed local delegations at the start of Ukraine Days. And, at the conclusion of the first day of advocacy, a reception was held on Capitol Hill hosted by UCCA National President Andrew Futey that included Ukraine’s Ambassador to the US, H.E. Valeriy Chaly and the President of the Ukrainian World Congress, Eugene Czolij. Two of the four Co-Chairs of the CUC, Rep. Marcie Kaptur (D OH), and Rep. Andy Harris (R MD), as well as Vice Chair of the SUC Senator Chris Murphy (D CT), and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D VA) were recognized with special awards for their support of Ukraine and the Ukrainian American community. On the second day a number of events rounded out a packed program, including briefings at the Department of State, meetings at the Embassy of Ukraine, and hearings on Capitol Hill.
Just as the delegation started its long road-trip home to Michigan, Rep. Sander Levin called to say that as ranking member of the all-important Ways and Means Committee, he was in meetings dealing with healthcare reform that went all night till 4:30AM that was then followed by a closed door intelligence briefing.He called to continue the discussion from the day before concerning the highly charged political environment inside the beltway involving the Trump administration, Russia, Ukraine and the uncertainties that continue to fuel controversy. The CUC Co Chair wanted to reiterate that he and his colleagues in the CUC from both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, will continue to press ahead on the US/Ukraine strategic partnership, including all facets of cooperation and assistance.The delegation responded that Ukrainians in Michigan and throughout America and the diaspora as a whole deeply appreciate that Sandy Levin is our Congressman, a great and trusted friend and the most authoritative voice in Congress on US/Ukraine relations.
Cooperation between communities is vitally important.In this regard, the UCCA MI Chapter and UCCA IL Division coordinate many local advocacy initiatives, programs and projects.Borys Potapenko from the UCCA MI Chapter serves on the External Affairs Committees of both local Chapters, as does Marta Farion and Pavlo Bandrivsky of the UCCA IL Division.Farion and Potapenko recently became members of the External Affairs Committee of the National Executive of the UCCA. Unlike many other communities, Illinois Ukrainians are in a special relationship with their delegation to Congress, obviating the need to make frequent visits to Washington, D.C. or to send large delegations. Their Senators and Representatives often visit the Ukrainian community, regularly attend community events and frequently meet with community leaders at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Chicago.The UCCA IL Division in recent weeks hosted at community events and/or held face to face consultations with Senator Dick Durbin, and (until January 22) Senator Mark Kirk, as well as area Congressmen: Rep. Mike Quigley, Rep. Peter Roskam, Rep. Danny Davis, Rep.Jan Schakowsky, and Rep. Bobby Rush.
Whether community representatives speak with their Congresspersons at Ukraine Days in Washington, D.C. or meet with them locally is not significant. Today the Ukrainian American community nation-wide is well positioned to communicate with government officials irrespective of the venue. What is important is that community advocates take the initiative and act.Members of Congress and, especially their local staff in their districts and relevant advisers in their national offices, need to hear from their constituents, individually and collectively. There is no substitute for direct and systematic engagement. The effectiveness of UNIS, the UCCA advocacy bureau in Washington, D.C., is directly related to the effectiveness of local, grass roots efforts.No less important is that these efforts be coordinated by UNIS and that the community speaks with one voice.
Most important is that our collective message no longer be limited to our concerns and aspirations for our ancestral homeland, Ukraine. Today, we need to also speak about our concerns and aspirations for our own country, America. Our fellow Americans need to be made aware of the vital importance of the US/Ukraine strategic partnership in overcoming the dangers that Putin’s Russia poses to both America and Ukraine.