[Translation of TV story produced by Myroslava Gongadze and Zorislav Baydyuk of the Ukrainian Service of the Voice of America. It aired in Ukraine on Sunday, January 25, 2009, as part of the Service’s magazine show “Window on America.” VOA Ukrainian television programming has a weekly audience reach in Ukraine of approximately 4.7 million viewers (Intermedia research firm data)].
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Melanne Verveer, an American of Ukrainian descent, was part, for some time, of the administration of President Bill Clinton. She was an aide at first to First Lady Hillary Clinton, eventually becoming her chief-of-staff. During her years there, she contributed greatly to the promotion of US-Ukrainian relations.
Melanne Verveer’s grandfathers and grandmothers on both sides came to America at the beginning of the past century. They settled in Pennsylvania, where they worked hard, but still raised their children and grandchildren in a Ukrainian spirit.
Over a hundred years after their arrival, their granddaughter has had a successful career in the US government and the public sector spanning over twenty-five years.
In 2000, Melanne Verveer co-founded and took the helm at Vital Voices Global Partnership. This non-governmental organization, based in Washington, DC, helps women throughout the world become leaders in their communities, and fights human trafficking and violence against women. The organization unites women leaders in eighty-five countries around the world.
Each year, the Vital Voices Global Partnership recognizes the accomplishments of women with awards presented in the US capital. Among the women leaders honored there were quite a few from Ukraine Melanne Verveer believes in the potential of Ukrainian women and of Ukrainians in general.
“They should feel, through all the disappointments, that as citizens they play a very vital role and maybe they can’t change things overnight, or over many months, or even over many years, but what they did, all across Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, is symbolic of the potential of the people.”
Ukraine fills a special place in her heart. Born in the US, she learned about Ukraine only from stories from her grandparents. Ukraine’s traditions and culture she carried with her since childhood. So when in the early 1990s destiny brought her to the White House, where the new president Bill Clinton, her classmate and friend from Georgetown University, was settling in, her professional duties became tightly intertwined with her national identity.
“Being Ukrainian was a very important part of my life, being a Ukrainian-American…. I went to Ukrainian grammar school, I went to a Ukrainian high school…. In school, we sang the American national anthem. And then we sang [the Ukrainian national anthem] ‘Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina.’ And we learned all the time about what was happening in our ancestral homeland and how difficult the situation was for the people there. And every effort was made – certainly there was a lot of praying – but there were a lot of other efforts made to try to provide support in very, very difficult times.”
When Melanne Verveer was growing up Ukraine did not exist as an independent country. She, as well as many other Ukrainian immigrants, firmly believed and convinced others, that such a country would one day appear on the map of the world. During her student days Melanne Verveer was able to convince even the future president of the US. She related how Bill Clinton later recalled that.
“And he told someone, many years later, when I was working in the White House. He said: ‘You know, she told me, Ukraine would be free one day.’ And I said, ‘I did?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I think everybody knew that I was a Ukrainian-American. And it was very much a part of me.”
“But, you see, I think that is the miracle of Ukraine – that through all of those decades and decades, it was a people who knew they were Ukrainian. They had a language, they had a culture, and it was very vibrant and it was inside of each person. And it was carried through the generations. And, you know, look at Ukraine’s history and yet people who are Ukrainian know they are Ukrainian. They are not part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they are not part of the Soviet Union; they are people who know who they are. And growing up that was imbued in me.”
Melanne Verveer’s first visit to Ukraine was with President Clinton. On his plane, the president’s team decided that she, as the highest ranking U.S. official of Ukrainian descent, would descend from the plane onto Ukrainian soil right after the president.
“They played the American national anthem and they played the Ukrainian national anthem. And I was in a very difficult emotional state. And I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Because I was thinking about my grandparents…. They had made that difficult journey. They were laborers in America. And their granddaughter comes back with the president of the United States. And it is a remarkable story.”
Working in the administration, Melanne Verveer tried to be a catalyst for cooperation with the diaspora. In her words, the Clinton family was always open to new information and new contacts.
“Both he and Hillary would ask me many times, because we did many events with the Ukrainian-American community during my time in the White House, from the first visit of the president from Ukraine to Washington. We helped bring in people who were representative of the community. We worked with Children of Chornobyl and had one of the first anniversary events in the White House.”
Now that Hillary Clinton has become the U.S. secretary of state, Melanne Verveer is convinced that the knowledge she gained about Ukraine will help Hillary in the process of formulating the new administration’s policy vis-a-vis Ukraine.
“She’s obviously very familiar with Ukraine. She made three trips to Ukraine….Now, the policy is set by the president. So President Obama will set the policy in terms of America’s relation. But it will be consistent with what it’s been. The United States wants to be a good partner and a supporter of the growth and development of democracy in Ukraine, as well as a vibrant economy and an integration, a full integration, with the West.”
In April 2008, Melanne Verveer was awarded [by the President of Ukraine] the Order of Princess Olha, Third Rank, for her long-time work for the good of Ukraine. Melanne Verveer says she plans to continue helping her ancestral homeland in whatever position she might hold.
story transcript in Ukrainian - текст українською