Ukrainian lobby in the US: unpaid, but enthusiastic

Author : Anton Pechenkin

Respondent : Nadiya Shaporynska, Ilona Doerfler, Ania Onoprienko

Source : 112 Ukraine

"The Diaspora is a strong and free human resource which needs to be used", state the activists
17:37, 2 November 2015

Facebook of Nadiya Shaporynska

112 International continues it's series of interviews with leaders and remarkable activists of the Ukrainian Diaspora. This time, our respondents are three women, representatives of Ukrainian movement of the US. They told about general perception of Ukraine in America, highlighting moments of relations between two countries, and the life and activity of their organization.

Nadiya Shaporynska is a co-founder of the Ukrainian Group “US Ukrainian Activists” (“US UA”) and its active member. Nadiya was born and grew up in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, where she received her Master’s Degrees in Psychology and Education in the Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University, as well as Certificates in Management, Music and Art before moving to the USA in 1999. Living in the US, Nadiya continued her musical education and experience in psychological/life coaching.

Ilona Doerfler was born and raised in Kyiv. After finishing a Physics-Mathematics School #145 in 1991, she permanently moved to the USA. Ilona obtained a Master’s Degree in real estate from the Johns Hopkins University. She is working as a controller in a private company. Activistsince Marchof 2014.

Ania Onoprienko was born in Ukraine but grew up in the U.S. Ania graduated from the College of William & Mary with a degree in International Relations. She has lived and done research in France and the Republic of Georgia, participated in Euromaidan from December 2013 to May 2014. Ania is interested in the politics and culture of the Caucasus and Turkic regions, art, and animal rights.

Can you say that Ukrainian Diaspora in the U.S. is united? How fruitfully Ukrainians of different “waves” of immigration cooperate?

Facebook of Nadiya Shaporynska
Nadiya Shaporynska: In my opinion, the Ukrainian Diaspora in the USA revealed great unity in supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and in its urge to follow the European way of development. Many Ukrainians from close and distant states came to participate in pro-Ukrainian meetings in front of the White House. Moreover, during different Ukrainian rallies and protests, you could meet both representatives of the old Ukrainian Diaspora, who have lived in the USA for several decades, and the younger Diaspora, living in the US less than 10 years.

Different public and media persons speak about rather influential Ukrainian lobby in Washington, DC. Do you agree with it, did the Diaspora participate in its forming?

Nadiya Shaporynska: The Ukrainian Diaspora took a very active part in lobbying in the US Congress. During the fall of 2014, some Ukrainian activists and I participated in lobbying, supporting the Bill 2828 to provide Ukraine with defensive aid and impose stronger sanctions against Russia (“The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014”).

Facebook of Ilona Doerfler
Ilona Doerfler: I don't know if the Ukrainian lobby can be called strong since it is unpaid. Russia on the other hand spends large sums on their personal lobbying. But the goal of the Ukrainian lobby corresponds to the goals of the people who truly care about world safety, which is why our voice is heard in the Capital. I would characterize the influence of the Diaspora as the drops that sharpen stones.

Is the recent resolution of US Congress on addressing funds to military supplies for Ukraine the bigger desert of Ukrainian Diplomacy or the Diaspora’s influence?

Nadiya Shaporynska: It is difficult to say whether the Ukrainian diplomacy or Diaspora played the main role in the decision of the Congress regarding its military support of Ukraine. During the last 2 years, I have seen the Ukrainian Diaspora taking action in the US by participating in many protests in front of the White House, requesting for the US government to provide military assistance for Ukraine and fulfill the obligations of the guarantor of the territorial integrity of Ukraine (according to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994), and also, by taking part in lobbying in the US Congress (for support of the Bill 2828 to provide military assistance for Ukraine and impose stronger sanctions against Russia).

Ilona Doerfler: I cannot say whose influence is stronger. Right now diplomacy and the Diaspora are working in unity. Diplomacy plays “the first violin”. 

Facebook of Ania Onoprenko
Ania Onoprienko: I think this is both thanks to diplomacy and the influence of the Diaspora. However I still think that the influence of the Diaspora is stronger- they are very actively defending the protection of Ukraine. In addition, there is more Ukrainian Diaspora than diplomacy. The diaspora worked very actively to have their voices- the voices for Ukraine, heard.

For the latest time, including the presidential campaign, the “Ukrainian question” is paid comparatively little attention in the US. Can you say that there is a “fatigue of Ukraine” in America?

Ilona Doerfler: As in all of the world, politicians are divided into politicians and statesmen. Politicians work for the internal market because the average middle class American consumer is indifferent towards what is happening overseas, including in Ukraine. This far from and in no way influences the daily lives of the average Americans. They are more interested in Syria because they understand that the USA has some immediate interests in the Middle East. But fortunately, there still exist such statesmen, as Senator McCain, who realizes that peace in the world will depend on how events in Ukraine will play out, those who realize the catastrophic consequences for the world and for America if the West allows Putin to take over.

Donald Trump, one of the most popular Republican candidates for the moment, is well known for his sympathetic statements regarding Putin and Russia. So, what are the differences of opinions of other candidates on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine? On your opinion, what result of the 2016 presidential race would be the most preferable for Ukraine?

Ilona Doerfler: I don't think that the Ukrainian Diaspora has chosen a favorite just yet. We are now closely following the rhetoric and are awaiting for a concrete stance regarding Ukraine and America's role in the world arena. I also don't think that support of the Diaspora will be consolidated. Among us are democrats, republicans, and independents. I don't even know what to say regarding Trump... I consider him like the American Zhyrinovskiy, which is why any more comments are not needed.

Please, tell about your Center, its history and main activities. How many Ukrainians of New York and around are involved, what organizations do you cooperate with?

Nadiya Shaporynska: The name of our Ukrainian Group, “US Ukrainian Activists” (“US UA”), was created in June 2015. All our activists, most of which live in Washington D.C., are volunteers - actively supporting and helping Ukraine during the past two years (since the beginning of Maidan Protests in November 2013).

In Washington D.C., our activists have taken an active part in many protests and sometimes in their organization to support Ukraine and its fight against the Russian aggression. The main goal of our protests was to capture the world’s attention regarding the Russian annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and invasion in Eastern Ukraine. For instance, on March 2, 2014, our activists organized a meeting, regarding the Russian military invasion in Crimea, in front of the White House. This same day, they participated in an earlier protest in front of the Russian Embassy. During many rallies in front of the White House, we were giving the American government a strong message, asking for help with non-lethal military aid and hoping to remind the government officials that the USA is a guarantor of the territorial integrity of Ukraine (according to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994). Another example is the meeting, “The World United around the White House in Support of Ukraine,” by the White House on May 3, 2014, organized by our Washingtonian activists, together with the Ukrainian Activists from New York City. This meeting was followed by a march to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. One more example – the participation of our activists in the rally in support of Ukraine in front of the White House during the meeting of the Presidents P.Poroshenko and B.Obama on September 18, 2014. A few days later, we took part in the “Peace March” against Russian aggression in Ukraine, which was joined by Semen Semenchenko, the ex-commander of the Donbas Battalion. One of the following protests, which our members participated in, was the meeting “Stop War in Ukraine” on January 25, 2015. Our latest protest was organized in support of Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko in front of the Russian Embassy.

Moreover, during the fall of 2014, our US UA activists took part in lobbying in the US Congress, regarding the Bill 2828 to provide Ukraine with much needed defensive aid and to impose stronger sanctions against Russia (Bill 2828: the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014).

During the past year and a half, our activists actively helped Ukraine in its fight against the Russian military aggression in Eastern Ukraine by organizing charity events and online fundraisers for medicines that are vital in providing first aid for the Ukrainian defenders on the front lines (such as celox, Combat Application Tourniquets (C-A-T), Israeli Combat Bandages, etc.).

Since June 2014, our US UA activists took an active part in the organization of different charity events to help Ukraine. For instance, on June 15, 2014, at St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, two of our activists participated in the organization of the Charity Event, the proceeds from which (more than $3,000) were raised for the Ukrainian defenders and for the support of the Ukrainian film project "Babylon 13." One month later, on July 13, 2014, at the same church, the second charity event (with more than $4,500 raised) was dedicated to the 51 Volyn Brigade to help with first aid medicines. Some of the latest charity events, organized by US Ukrainian Activists (US UA), are the Charity Concert by the award winning Ukrainian pianist Pavel Gintov on July 30, 2015 at the Embassy of Ukraine and our participation in the Ukrainian Festival on September 19 and 20, 2015, at St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church in Silver Spring, MD. $3,000 of the proceeds (raised during the charity concert) and $735 (from a separate online fundraiser) were used for summer and winter uniforms, as well as some other items for Donbas Battalion. During the Ukrainian Festival, US UA raised about $1,700, which was distributed for the purchases of 2 night vision devices for 14 Specialized Mechanized Brigade, winter clothes for Donbas Battalion and Ivano-Frankivsk Defenders; and a small fund of $200 was sent to help Lviv Defenders (24 Detached Mechanized Brigade).

At present, many US Ukrainian Activists take care of Ukrainian Soldiers from ATO, who are currently having their rehabilitation in the Walter Rees National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The top Ukrainian politicians always meet with the Diaspora while visiting the US. How may you assess the level of cooperation between Kyiv and Ukrainian organizations of America? What lacks the policy of Ukraine regarding the Diaspora?

Ilona Doerfler: I view talks and sometimes cooperation among Ukrainian politicians and Ukrainian Diaspora in America very positively.Ukrainians abroad are well educated in different spheres and could offer the type of experience which Ukraine is lacking.

In my opinion, the politics of Ukraine regarding their Diaspora lacks certain specifics. Kyiv needs to determine the role of the Diaspora in solving the problems on an international scale. A definite achievable goal needs to be created for the Diaspora and together with the Diaspora a definitive plan of action with bulletin points needs to be developed. There has to be one coordinator that would monitor that implementation of the plan according to the bullets. Basically, we need specifics. Not just saying for example "it wouldn't be bad to rip a star from the sky." The Diaspora is a strong and free human resource which needs to be used. Active representatives of the Diaspora are now helping Ukraine in different fields, however each one is able to. And this is a large contribution, but we can try to create a stronger and more consolidated strength. 

Ania Onoprienko: In the past during the times of Yanukovych and even Yushchenko - very few Ukrainian politicians spoke with and listened to the thoughts of average Ukrainians living in the USA. Everything now is a lot more open- people are more attentive to each other's opinions. Ukrainian politicians come to cafés to speak with the diaspora- this is already a high level of collaboration, to even listen to different viewpoints.

What I think lacks is the help of Ukrainian diaspora actually in Ukraine. There need to be more opportunities for Americans of Ukrainian descent to work in Ukraine and to help the country evolves. 

There are many qualified professionals in America who would want to implement their education and skills in Ukraine. However they are unable to do so because they do not have permits to work in Ukraine or there are not enough job opportunities in Ukraine for foreign citizens. People with experience from America would only bring benefits to Ukraine.

In general, how do you feel about the process of reforms in Ukraine? What else is to be done, in particular for uprising the investment potential and attracting the Diaspora business and American companies at all?

Ilona Doerfler: It is difficult to rate the process of reforms, because corruption, first of all in the judicial system, “brings everything to zero.” A full reboot of the court system is a needed requirement for the effectiveness of all other reforms. Until this happens, there is no sense in giving any kind of rating to the changes or to discuss the enlargement of investment potentials. 

Related: Foreign direct investments to Ukraine could be attracted via Ukrainian Diaspora

Related: How do Ukrainians feel in Greece

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