About the Author: Daniel Rosenblum serves as Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia.
This past Tuesday night, I flew from Kyiv to Simferopol in Crimea, a southern region of Ukraine on the Black Sea. I was going for two reasons: to participate in a ceremony marking the end of the delivery of $22.5 million worth of hospital equipment and supplies donated by the U.S. government; and to check on the progress of other U.S. government-sponsored exchanges, training and technical assistance in Crimea.
As Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia at the State Department, I do this sort of thing all the time. In 18 countries in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, I make sure that our foreign aid money is being spent effectively, that it's helping those countries to become more stable, more democratic, and generally better partners of the United States. But to be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect in Crimea, which I had not visited for almost 15 years.
Crimea hosts the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, and has not always been a friendly place for an American diplomat to go. A few years ago, anti-NATO demonstrations were common. I also knew, however, that we had been working quietly for a number of years to provide basic humanitarian assistance to hospitals, clinics, and the local Crimean Tatar population, and had sponsored exchange programs that brought students and professionals from Crimea to the United States to meet Americans and get to know "the real us." I also knew that we had recently sponsored some very well- received cultural events in the region, such as jazz concerts, and provided a grant to help preserve the popular but underfunded Anton Chekhov House Museum in Yalta. And that in the past year, USAID had ramped up its Crimea programs in local economic development (helping mayors and other local officials with strategic planning and municipal budgeting; reducing the bureaucratic barriers to small business start-ups), energy efficiency (reversing the notoriously wasteful use of natural gas to produce heat and hot water for cities and towns); and support for civic engagement and non-governmental organizations.
I have so many impressions from my two days in Crimea. Being warmly and enthusiastically greeted by an auditorium full of doctors, nurses and other medical workers at the official "handover" ceremony in Simferopol. Talking to the Crimean Vice-Prime Minister, who was so deeply grateful for the hospital project and had a dozen new ideas for collaboration with the United States. Seeing the City Emergency Hospital, where the newly received surgical beds, lights, monitors and diagnostic equipment replaced some items that were decades old and provided for other needs that had never before been met. Going to the Children's Hospital, where the donated neo-natal incubators gave the medical staff, for the first time, enough safe places for all the premature babies. Talking to a room full of young leaders in their 20's about their struggles, successes and failures to establish NGOs that advocate for the rights of the disabled, the rights of ethnic minorities, and the promotion of a "volunteer culture," among other endeavors. Driving to the 2,500 year-old city of Yevpatoriya, on the Black Sea coast, to meet with the dynamic mayor and learn about plans to develop the tourism sector, and to use USAID technical assistance to improve the investment climate in his city.
I came away from my Crimea visit reminded that the challenges facing the people of Ukraine are immense, and that our aid alone will not come close to solving all of them. But we are providing tools and empowering people to find their own solutions. And in the process, we are building lots of goodwill toward the United States and establishing long-term partnerships between Americans and Ukrainians that will benefit both countries for years to come.