On February 11th, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF) Board Chairman Ambassador Roman Popadiuk, along with Robert McConnell, Coordinator of External Relations for the Foundation, and Board member David Rigsby, who also serves as chairman of USUF’s Friends of Ukraine Network defense group, met with United States Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and his staff. They discussed the humanitarian and military situation in Ukraine. They outlined the dire need for humanitarian assistance, the threat of land mines in eastern Ukraine and a concept for strengthening Ukraine’s private defense industry sector.

About 3.4 million people need some type of immediate assistance and, of these, about 1.5 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs). Ukraine faces a particular threat from land mines. It is considered one of the world’s most landmine contaminated areas. Ambassador Popadiuk outlined a specific plan to utilize U.S. military logistic capabilities and personnel to deliver and distribute humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. has used similar programs to deal with natural disasters and humanitarian crises throughout the world. The group also requested that the United States provide additional funding for the humanitarian effort and take steps for greater international support of this effort. As of December of last year, according to the Financial Tracking Service of the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, only 38% of the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine has been funded. In fiscal year 2018 the US provided $38 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

On the defense front, the group outlined a program to assist Ukraine in strengthening its private sector defense focusing on determining, documenting and prioritizing Ukraine’s requirements.  They discussed evaluating which requirements Ukraine’s defense sector can provide and which require outside assistance.  This involves evaluating manufacturing potential and streamlining its procurement procedures. The program discussed will help Ukraine meet its specific battlefront requirements, strengthen its defense industry and also become a magnet for U.S. investment and partnerships with the U.S. defense sector.  Uniquely, the program would be based on Ukrainian defense sector stakeholders working in focus groups outside their normal duties in Ukraine.

Mr. Rigsby noted that Ukraine’s private defense companies already make significant contributions to Ukraine’s economy and provide a pathway to Ukraine becoming more capable of meeting its own defense needs.

Senator Portman noted his visit to eastern Ukraine last year and concurred with the group’s evaluation that the conflict, unfortunately, had largely disappeared from the public’s attention in the United States. The Senator noted that during his visit it was obvious that the shooting and conflict was still ongoing.

Sitting in on the session was Wayne Jones, the Senator’s foreign policy and defense sector adviser. The Senator voiced his interest in both proposals, and it was decided that his staff will continue with an in-depth discussion with the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.

Photo at top of page:  From left — David Rigsby, Amb. Roman Popadiuk, Senator Rob Portman and Robert McConnell.