President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, Rada Chairman Groysman: it’s great to be speaking to you, my old friends, and to the people of Ukraine. I only wish I could be there in person, as I was last April – and again in June—and last November as well.
You know, it’s hard to fathom how much has happened these past fifteen months—how much you’ve achieved. You’ve forced out a corrupt leader to win another chance at democracy; you’ve stood tall against Russian aggression, and you’re still standing tall; you’ve passed new laws to root out corruption; and you’ve held the freest, fairest, and most widely-monitored elections in Ukraine’s history.
And I want you to know that the American people support you. Your moral and physical courage actually inspires them. And we’re proud. We’re proud to be your partner and your friend.
We stood with you in the early days of protest, we stood with you as you overwhelmingly chose the path of democracy, reform, and European integration. And no one, no one, should be allowed to deny the path Ukrainians choose for themselves – not the Kremlin, not the oligarchs, no one. We stand in solidarity with you today as you seek to break with the old rules and the old system to deliver a more just and hopeful future for your people.
And of course we stand by the brave people of Ukraine and your military as you defend your soil against Russian aggression. Russia today is occupying Ukrainian land, sending Russian troops, Russian-hired thugs and mercenaries, Russian tanks, Russian missiles into Donbas. This brazen attempt to redraw the boundaries of Europe by force threatens Ukraine and our shared aspiration for a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
That’s why the sanctions that we’re jointly imposing must continue until Russia fully, completely fulfills its obligations under the Minsk agreements –including the return of Ukraine’s international border to Ukrainian control.
And that’s why we continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance, so that Ukrainians and your military can secure their territory and borders and defend themselves against Russian aggression.
Russian aggression has also created a huge humanitarian tragedy—close to 2 million Ukrainians pushed out of their homes, 1.2 million displaced internally into communities all across the country.
We call on the world to help Ukraine carry this burden. And just two days ago, we announced an additional $18 million in humanitarian aid, bringing our total to $43 million since this conflict began.
In total, we’ve provided about $450 million in assistance since the start of this crisis, in addition to a $1 billion loan guarantee last year, another $1 billion loan guarantee that will be finalized in the coming days, and a further $1 billion at the end of the year if Ukraine continues the path of reform.
Ukraine is fighting for its future on the battlefields of the East. But Ukraine also has to fight for its future in the halls of power in Kyiv. You’re fighting to build a democracy that respects the will of the people—instead of catering to the whims of the powerful; an economy where what you know matters more than who you know; a society under the rule of law, where the cancer of corruption is removed from the body politic and a measure of dignity is restored to the people’s lives of Ukraine.
These two things –the one Ukrainians fought for and died for in the Maidan, and the one you’re fighting and dying for in the east—were in many respects the same thing because ultimately, they are both a fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty and freedom—for a Ukraine strong enough to choose its own future.
And, as you Ukrainians know in your bones, it’s not enough to talk about change. You have to deliver change. And you’re doing it. You have a strategy and new laws to fight corruption, a new head of your independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau. You’ve improved your parliamentary election laws to make your October elections even more fair and free. You’ve passed laws to make politicians and government officials disclose their assets. And you’ve made the difficult but necessary choice to begin reforming your pension system. You’ve cut wasteful gas subsidies—hard as that can be—and you’re closing the space for corrupt middlemen who rip off the Ukrainian people. You’re standing up a new police force in Kyiv that will truly serve to protect the people. And we know that’s only the beginning of police reform. You’ve eliminated eight regulatory agencies, and you consolidated 11 others, making it easier for small businesses to operate. You’re moving forward with critical constitutional reform that will benefit all the people of Ukraine and allow for greater local autonomy.
But I urge you to keep moving forward. Use the new laws on the books, the new leadership in place to investigate and prosecute corruption— past and present— at all levels. There’s no better way to prove your determination to end business as usual. Pass an antitrust bill, antitrust legislation. Keep working to reform the election laws to ensure that, as decentralization moves forward, local government is really representative and accountable. And above all, keep listening to your people—make sure that your work is transparent and that civil society has a voice in this process.
You should do these things not because I’m asking you to, or anyone else has told you to, but because this is what it takes for any nation to succeed in the 21st century. A long, hard road lies ahead. But the people of Ukraine and their courage give me great hope. Each time I visit your country, I meet with young activists from the Maidan. They inspire me, like they do you. They inspire me with their intelligence, their dedication, and their patriotism. Now, as they make the journey from protest to politics—and it’s a difficult journey—they hold the promise of turning Ukraine into an example: an educated nation that fully unleashes its human capital through the right combination of reform and investment.
That’s what the Kremlin fears most, as all of you know: a prosperous, democratic, independent and reform-oriented Ukraine that cannot be bribed, coerced, or intimidated. And that’s what you have to continue to build, so your friends and relatives who live in Russia can actually see what is possible when a country embarks on real reforms.
And when others seek to use corruption, oligarchy, or weak institutions as tools of coercion, reform isn’t just a matter of good governance. It’s a matter of self-defense. It’s a matter of patriotism.
I think of a young woman I spoke with when I was in your country who gave up a very lucrative career in a financial sector to work on reforms in one of your government ministries. And I asked her a simple question; I said, “Why are you doing this?” I remember what she said. She said: “I have two small children and I cannot fight in the east. So this is what I can do for my country.” I was impressed. And there’s so many others like her, who are fighting for a new Ukraine in every and any way they can.
And so long as you keep faith with your commitment to build a more democratic, just, and prosperous Ukraine, you will never be alone. America and the American people will stand by your side. I wish you great luck, and I’ll continue to be engaged, as the president will.
May God bless the brave people of Ukraine, and may God bless the United States of America, and may God protect all of our troops.