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Public Statements

Supporting the Democratic Aspirations of the People of Ukraine

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I would like to thank my good friend and distinguished colleague, the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, for introducing this bipartisan resolution supporting the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

It is a timely appeal to the Government of Ukraine to stand down and to avoid all further violence, to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid confrontation. It calls on the government to bring to justice those responsible for violence against peaceful protesters and to release and drop any criminal charges against those detained for peacefully exercising their democratic rights.

At this point, the government's crackdown has led to the deaths of at least four protesters--perhaps more--and throughout Ukraine to numerous beatings, arrests, detentions, abductions--including some from hospitals--the harassment of activists, journalists, medics, lawyers, and pro-democracy NGOs.

On the Kyiv Maidan alone, or Independence Square, more than 1,800 individuals, mostly protesters but also some riot police, have been injured. Thirty-six persons are confirmed missing, 49 people remain in detention, and 26 are under house arrest. At least 30 medics working to aid the injured on the Maidan have been attacked.

Also, 136 journalists have been attacked on the Maidan, including investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovol, brutally beaten on Christmas Day, and who investigators, rather incredibly, claimed was a victim of road rage.

One of the most outrageous examples has been the case of activist Dmitry Bulatov, who was abducted for 8 days before being left in a forest outside of Kyiv, during which time he was tortured by his captors who tried to force him to say he was an American spy.

The heroism, Madam Speaker, of the Ukrainian people persistently demonstrating, struggling, and risking themselves for justice and dignity is deeply inspiring. The witness of so many clergy on the Maidan is a powerful reminder of the spiritual values that are at stake.

Just last Thursday, I had the high honor and privilege of meeting in my office with Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. These brave and holy religious leaders are deeply concerned for the faithful--and for the whole Ukrainian nation--and alarmed about the potential for even worse violence, perhaps even civil conflict.

Patriarch Filaret said recently:

I appeal to both the power and opposition to stop violence and to come to the negotiating table. All of you are responsible before God for your earthly doings.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called for an end to the violence, and said:

I am close to Ukraine in prayer and, in particular, to those who have lost their lives in recent days and to their families. I hope that a constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society can take place, that any resort to violence is avoided, and that the spirit of peace and a search for common ground is in the hearts of all.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York expressed strong support for antigovernment protesters in Ukraine. Writing on his blog, he summarized the conflict as ``government thugs relishing the chance to bludgeon and harass the hundreds of thousands of patriotic Ukrainians,'' and described the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as ``a church that has been starved, jackbooted, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted, and martyred by Hitler, Stalin, and company.''

That said, Madam Speaker, I do want to note that there is a paradox here. I know there are many outstanding people working in and for the Ukrainian Government who love their country and have its best interest at heart. Last year, for example, I met many times with Ukrainian ministers, high-level officials, and the ambassador, including meetings in Kyiv. This was because, in 2013, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kozhara chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and made the fight against human trafficking a top priority for the organization.

In June, it held a high-level conference in Kyiv to

investigate and promulgate best practices and ways that the 57 OSCE countries can better coordinate antitrafficking efforts, including through training transportation and hospitality industry employees in victim identification. The Kyiv call to action was serious and successful. I know because I was there. And what came out of that was a new OSCE plan of action to combat human trafficking.

Madam Speaker, I want to point out that this resolution does not take any position on whether Ukraine should sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. That is a decision for the Ukrainians to make themselves.

At the committee markup, we decided to make that point clear, and the message should be clear. This is not about politics; this is about human rights. Congress is supporting the Ukrainian people in their defense of universal human values and not inserting itself into the question of what Ukraine does vis-a-vis the European Union.

Madam Speaker, the Ukrainian people have endured horrific suffering over the course of the last century, and this is what gives their peaceful resistance on the Maidan such power.

Two world wars were fought on their soil. In the 1930s, as we all know, Stalin inflicted a genocidal famine on them, which resulted in the death of millions of men, women, and children, to say nothing of 70 years as a captive nation in the Soviet Union.

In the 1980s, many of us in this Chamber, and on the Helsinki Commission especially, spoke out on behalf of Ukrainian human rights activists imprisoned in the gulag, called for the legalization of the then-banned and repressed Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and held several hearings on the Chernobyl disaster.

With Ukraine's long-awaited independence in 1991, newfound freedoms also became a reality--or, we thought. But since 2010, with the election of Viktor Yanukovych, human rights, rule of law, and democracy have been under relentless attack--symbolized by the continued unjust imprisonment of former Prime Minster and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose daughter, Yevhenia, testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing I held in May of 2012 and on whose behalf I, along with my colleagues, introduced a resolution in the previous Congress.

It is the Ukrainian people's dissatisfaction with Yanukovych, his rollback of democracy, that drives the protest movement. The long-suffering Ukrainian people deserve a government that treats them with dignity and treats them with respect. I am confident they will prevail in their heroic struggle.

I strongly support this resolution and, again, thank my friend from New York for authoring it.

Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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