U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power urged the Ukrainian people to move from demanding change in their country to helping create it.
Speaking to a large audience at the October Palace cultural center in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Thursday, she expressed U.S. support for the government and civil society-led reform process.
Noting that while some modest progress has been made, she said it is far from complete.
“For every area of modest progress, there are several more in which more work is needed; and in which entrenched powers are succeeding in fending off change. Far too many of the reforms made on paper are not being carried out in practice,” said Power.
She urged Ukrainians to remain engaged.
“Building a system of new rules will never depend on what your government does, but rather on what you make it do, and what you do yourselves.”
Power called on Ukrainians to continue to make their voices heard to keep their leaders accountable – something, she noted, which is threatening to autocratic leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who she said wants to sabotage their efforts.
Ambassador Power has a been a strong voice in the Obama administration against the Russian-fueled crisis in eastern Ukraine, often engaging in heated exchanges with her Russian counterpart in the U.N. Security Council.
The conflict has seen Moscow annex Ukraine’s Crimea region in a referendum condemned by the West as a sham, and fighting in the east has killed more than 6,300 people since April 2014.
The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Russia for its destabilizing actions in Ukraine, and Power said Washington would continue its diplomatic and economic isolation of Moscow as long as it continues to disregard Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Reactions to speech
Reacting to Power’s speech, Vitaly, a physics teacher from Ternopil in western Ukraine, said he saw no alternative to reforms, expressing hope in the Ukrainian people’s ability to push them through.
“I hope that we can. Hope does exist. Because, if there’s no hope you might as well dig your own grave and get ready to die,” said Vitaly, adding that especially during these times of war “it’s not a matter of if we can do it, but something we should do.”
Vitaly’s sentiments were echoed by Yulia, an employee of the German Exhibition Center in Kyiv.
Despite scare tactics employed against Ukraine by the Kremlin, ultimate responsibility for effecting change still rests with the people, said she.
“And, if we feel this and we understand this, then obviously we will be able to change something,” said Yulia.
Power met on Wednesday with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, with whom she discussed the implementation of a cease-fire deal between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine at a time of renewed hostilities between the warring sides.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shakes hands with the U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, during their meeting in Kyiv June 10, 2015. (Courtesy - President Poroshenko's personal Facebook page)
The agreement, reached in February in Minsk, Belarus, requires both rebels and Ukraine forces withdraw heavy weapons from the "line of contact," but international observers have reported frequent violations of the deal’s provisions.
“You cannot imagine how popular you currently are in Ukraine,” Poroshenko told Power at the beginning of their meeting, adding that many Ukrainians follow U.N. Security Council sessions devoted to the Ukraine conflict.
Washington accuses Moscow of training, arming, financing and fighting alongside rebels in the country’s east, a charge the Kremlin denies.
Russia is widely seen in the West as fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine as a means of halting Kyiv's integration with Europe.
Ukrainians toppled a pro-Russia president in February 2014 following months of massive street protests against his rule.
Power on Wednesday also paid tribute to the dozens of pro-democracy protesters killed during the “Maidan” rallies by security forces.
Part of Power’s mission to Ukraine is to also explore the establishment in Kyiv of a U.N. office that would be charged with supporting the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
Power’s meetings with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv come on the heels of talks in Washington Wednesday between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
During the meeting Biden "underscored the resolve of the United States and its G7 partners to continue pressing Russia to fully implement the Minsk agreements, including return of the Ukrainian side of the international border to Ukrainian control, as well as the withdrawal of all Russian soldiers and weapons from Ukraine,” according to a White House statement.
The two sides also discussed Ukraine’s reform agenda, anti-corruption measures and other efforts “that will support stability and growth, and help to attract additional investment in Ukraine,” the statement said.
VOA's Margaret Besheer and Daniel Schearf contributed this report.