Thursday, October 6, 2022

Kyiv, Ukraine

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Hello, everyone, thank you for gathering tonight. It is great to be back here in Kyiv for the first time since 2015. I was UN Ambassador when Russian forces invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine and attempted annexation. Now, I feel very privileged to be running USAID and to have the opportunity to employ resources and support to help an unbelievably resilient Ukrainian people withstand this horrific onslaught. And at the same time, we at USAID, and we in the U.S. government, of course, are supporting a variety of Ukrainian actors in the economic sector, in the agricultural sector. We also think it is extremely important to support Ukrainian efforts to document war crimes. Given that every town that Russia leaves – every town that is liberated from Russian occupation – unearths new evidence of atrocities and horrors. 

We are also making an investment in Ukraine's democratic journey which has come a very long way since I was last here in 2015. We support anti-corruption institutions, civil society organizations, and independent media, who themselves also hold government officials accountable. And that's an incredibly important part of what Ukraine does. 

On my visit here, I've had the chance to announce $55 million dollars in new support for Ukrainian efforts to get through the winter – so called winterization efforts. In addition to using artillery as a weapon of war against civilians, as Putin is doing, in addition to using food as a weapon of war, as Putin has done – we know that Putin is also intending to use winter as a weapon of war. And therefore this support, which will help up to seven million Ukrainians get heat this winter, is extremely important. We know more is needed and we're working with other countries, other donors, to look at this critical issue of energy, electricity, and gas this winter. 

I also had the chance to meet with farmers. It is no secret that much of the rest of the world depends on the bread basket that is Ukraine – Ukrainian grains, Ukrainian sunflower oil.  I met farmers whose lands had been occupied by Russian forces and then liberated, who found their farm equipment either pilfered, stolen, or destroyed, who found their farmlands and their homes mined. But I also met with farmers who harvested their crops and until the UN-Turkish Black Sea deal was brokered, had actually no way of getting their wheat out of the country. And so they actually really have had a hard time exporting what they have harvested. And USAID announced several months ago, something called the AGRI-Ukraine, which is a $100 million program to support Ukrainian farmers as they seek to move more grains by land, by rail, by river. But also as they need to store more, while the machinery of land, river, rail, and then UN-Turkish deal set in motion export scales along the lines of what predated this round of Putin’s war. 

This AGRI-Ukraine program is incredibly important because it's reflective also of our recognition that we want to support Ukraine get back on its feet, even as it is still pursuing victory on the battlefield. The Ukrainian economy can't await the formal end of this conflict. Ukrainian teachers, civil servants, Ukrainian shopkeepers, Ukrainian professionals of all kinds want to be working in the here and now. And the tax revenues that they will pay are a critical part of, again, getting Ukraine back on its feet. And so this is something USAID and the U.S. government are working hand in glove with our Ukrainian partners, not only at the national level, but also at the oblast level and at the city level around the country. 

My bottom line message here is the same – it won't surprise you – as President Biden's, which is that we, the United States, we the American people, stand with the people of Ukraine in their hour of need. And we will stand with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes. We recognize the difficulties, the horrors, that are being inflicted on the people of this great country for no reason whatsoever. And we want to do everything in our power to help our partners on the ground get through, not only this winter, but so many aspects of this man-made crisis. 

I have listened, I have learned, I had a very productive meeting with President Zelenskyy, where we talked through how to prioritize, given all of the needs in this country. But we are in full agreement, the United States and Ukraine, that this war, of course, will be won on the battlefields, but it is also being won in Ukraine's ongoing efforts to strengthen its democracy and its economy. And recall again, that is what makes President Putin so incensed. It is Ukraine's success as a democracy, as a modern economy, as a country tackling corruption. President Putin made that clear in his remarks before he staged this latest invasion of Ukraine. It is what the Ukrainian people are most dedicated to: the freedom to choose their own path; the freedom to be able to access economic opportunity where they want, when they want, and to not have that dictated by anybody else. And that is what the United States is here to support through thick and thin. Thank you so much. 

REPORTER: We have midterm elections coming up, which could be a shift of power in Congress. Can you give me a sense of what fears there might be, that what has been bipartisan support for Ukraine might change with a shift of power in Congress?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, you know I think there have been a number of Congressional delegations that have made their way here to Ukraine. It's not that easy of a place to get to those days, as you know well. But certainly one of the things that I will do, having finally had the privilege of coming back here, is to encourage more Members of Congress to take that trip. I know that it is something Ambassador Brink and her team support, because the more people that can come here and see with their own eyes what we read about in the headlines, what we have seen in images on tv, and on social media, is just the determination of the Ukrainian people to stand up for freedom. Not only for their own freedom, but for freedom everywhere. 

And that is a cause that has inspired both political parties in the United States for a very long time. For example, much of the democracy and human rights promoting work that we at USAID do – not only in Ukraine, but all around the world – dates back to President Reagan and his launch, in the last decade of the Cold War, of programs funding democracy, funding democratic movements. We have seen, as you mentioned, the bipartisanship that has accompanied these really substantial economic and security assistance packages, a degree of bipartisanship that virtually no other issue in Washington can command. And I am confident that as Ukraine continues along its democratic journey, continues to tackle corruption, continues to show that it is putting security assistance to such effective use on the battlefield – continues not only to try to keep the lights on in terms of governing, but to try to modernize its governing structures as it goes – that we will be able to withstand any political changes one way or the other in Washington. 

Because the spirit of what is at stake here, is a spirit that Americans of all political persuasions of all backgrounds, are so moved by, and themselves, ourselves, so motivated by.

REPORTER: You mentioned war crimes. In what ways is USAID supporting the investigations into war crimes? What has shocked you and your overview of the situation in Ukraine ? And secondly, what's the situation like for those in the newly liberated areas? And how is USAID helping?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I’ll see if I can take all those questions. So, USAID began supporting war crimes documentation after Russian forces illegally overtook Crimea and large parts of the Donbas. So that work has been entrained in the civil society organizations we have years-long partnerships with. 

When Russia invaded anew – including attempting to take this capital city before they were roundly defeated – we expanded that pre-existing programming. And, indeed now in this phase, you have multiple lines of effort occurring at once. Of course, the Ukrainian national system’s own judicial processes, the Prosecutor General, the gathering of evidence and deliberation among Ukrainian authorities about what the best venue will be for domestic prosecution. And at the same time – although blocked at the UN Security Council by a veto holder's use of the veto to cover-up and impede action in the face of Russian aggression – the United States and other countries, led above all by Ukrainian voices and Ukrainian diplomacy, have also, as you know, set up a Human Rights Council mechanism that is gathering evidence already. And the International Criminal Court has made clear its intention, as well, to gather evidence in pursuit of an investigation. 

So, we are supporting the Reckoning Project here, we are supporting the 5:00 AM Coalition, we are supporting what is now 22 offices around the country that gather testimonies, forensic evidence, and the kind of materials – that I and others know from other theaters of war where atrocities have been committed – that capturing that evidence immediately is critically important to building an effective case down down the line. And again, we'll be in very close consultation, of course, with the Ukrainian authorities about what they think ultimately the right distribution of accountability looks like given the range of actors involved. 

With regard to my own experience, prior to joining first, the Obama Administration, now the Biden Administration, I was a war correspondent. I've documented war crimes and atrocities all around the world, in different phases of my career and in different ways. What I have never seen before is atrocities being committed at scale by a country whose military is that of a superpower. So it's to combine such sizable military power with such brutal and inhumane, atrocious, indifference to human life. It's that combination that has been so ghastly to behold. 

And as inspiring as it has been in recent weeks to see Ukrainian forces – who have so many fewer numbers and, you know, is such a much smaller country then the aggressor – as heartening as it has been to see Ukrainian forces push back this much, much, more substantial military, and rattle off a string of credibly impressive military victories, it is also just gut wrenching in town after town, village after village, to see what the Russian forces have left in their wake. And it is clear that it is not spontaneous outbursts of torture or sexual violence or the the execution of unarmed men, or men and women with their hands tied behind their back – but it is a pattern in the lands that Russian forces have occupied. And for me, in visiting and talking to some of the survivors of these atrocities, it only accentuates, of course, what the Ukrainian people themselves are already so determined to do – is the importance of winning this war and liberating these territories as quickly as possible. 

REPORTER: What helped change Ukraine since 2015? Maybe in democratic and economic ways [inaudible] and maybe there are still problems that you noticed here?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I'm really glad you asked that question, because I think that – maybe even for Ukrainians who, you know, we all live life one day at a time. And sometimes it can be helpful to step back and say, “wow actually, when we went out to the Maidan, you know, here's what we were fighting for and whoa, look, you know, these now eight years later, look how different our society actually is. Look at decentralization, down to the oblast, and down to the towns, and the amount of civic participation there is.”  

It’s not just democracy, but it's a decentralized democracy that is closer to the people than in many advanced democracies in other parts of the world. We can look at the sophistication of the independent media here now compared to 2014, 2015. It's not always easy, you know, for U.S. officials or for Ukrainian officials to have such a dynamic media. But I just met with a group of journalists who have operated on all sides of the lines. And again, they’re evidence gathering, they’re sourcing – that’s a critical part, not just of democracy, but a sustainable democracy. Not just a rule by popular vote, but the checks and balances on majoritarianism that every country needs. 

And I met today with young people who are part of one of our economic competitiveness programs. Each of them had a startup that they were launching or they were raising venture capital to launch. The IT prowess of young people here and what they have to offer,  the amount that the Ukrainian economy is now connected with European markets – that would have been unthinkable to be this integrated. And frankly, the war has actually accelerated that as other markets are foreclosed or rejected. So that integration is incredible. 

And we've worked really closely with the Ministry for Digital Transformation, the entire Diaa system. I mean, I'm thinking as USAID Administrator, how can we get officials from the Ministry of Digital Transformation to travel to many of the other countries where we work because your team of tech experts, meet social service providers, have so much to offer, you know, countries that themselves might only be starting out. So when that digitization was first starting, it was Estonia and Germany and the United States and other countries that were coming in to offer support. Now, Ukraine is a leader globally in digitization, and that is something, as you know, that is keeping people alive today. It will keep people alive in the winter, because it is a way of reaching people effectively with social services, with cash assistance, if they're displaced, etc. 

So, again, Ukraine has gone so far along its democratic journey and that's precisely why Putin could not stand to have a democracy that was getting stronger, a rule of law that was getting stronger, and threatening corruption in Russia, so close. [inaudible] I am sure there are still problems. And one of the things that we’ll never stop doing is having honest conversations as well, with various ministries, about how to accelerate the reform effort. And reform can't wait until the end of the war. Reform has to go hand-in-hand with the prosecution of the war, as challenging as that is. But, you know, nobody needs to hear that from another diplomat or USAID Administrator from another country. That is something the Ukrainian people are insisting on as well.

Thank you.

Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Ukraine
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