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Interview with Ukrainian Freedom Advocate, Sergiy Shtukarin

We talked with Sergiy about challenges for Ukrainian democracy, his work in the United States, and why freedom in Eastern Europe matters to Americans.

Article by Christopher Walsh July 5, 2016 //   4 minute read
Sergiy Shtukarin

Freedom Matters to Ukraine’s Sergiy Shtukarin, a fellow with the John McCain Institute’s Next Generation Leaders’ program. Sergiy spent the year in Dallas with the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom and Economic Growth Initiatives. We talked with Sergiy about challenges for Ukrainian democracy, his work in the United States, and why freedom in Eastern Europe matters to Americans.

GWBI:  What kind of work have you been doing in Ukraine?

Sergiy: I dedicated myself to advancing Ukraine’s European Union (EU) integration and taught European Studies to university students and civil servants. I also led a think-tank in Donetsk, conducting public opinion research and taking part in advocacy campaigns to strengthen the region’s civil society.

During the Euromaidan protests that ousted Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government, I co-founded the Civil Liberties Coalition in Donetsk.

From 2014-2015, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights field mission, I researched human rights violations, interviewed victims, documented cases, and contributed to UN public reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine.  

GWBI:  Why are you currently in the United States?

Sergiy: In 2015, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine nominated me for the Next Generation Leaders’ program offered by the John McCain Institute for International Leadership. I was selected to the program and placed with the Bush Institute, dividing my time between the Human Freedom and Economic Growth initiatives and also working on my own leadership project, Incubator for Green Communities; it aims to mentor Ukraine’s local communities on sustainability and help them achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I also promote awareness about Ukraine in the United States via outreach to the Ukrainian diaspora; together we are building lasting partnerships to advance SDGs in Ukraine, but also strengthening transatlantic ties by connecting U.S. high school students who are passionate about human rights with their peers in Ukraine.

GWBI: Why should freedom in Ukraine and throughout the region matter to the United States?

Sergiy:  Moscow is a common threat to peace and stability for Ukraine and the United States. They invaded and occupied Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. They may have instigated killings in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.  Moscow also threatens U.S. and European interests around the world. Our struggle for freedom should not be viewed simply as a Russian-Ukrainian issue, but as part of a broader threat to the fundamental institutions of democracy and global security.

A glaring reason the conflict in Ukraine continues is the absence of freedom in Russia itself, where opposition is silenced, its leaders are imprisoned or killed, and many NGOs are labeled ‘foreign agents.’ Isolationism and indifference won’t solve the problem, but U.S. leadership could help advance freedom and stability in the region by exposing the rampant corruption, addressing illegal arms trade and trafficking, and prosecuting human rights violators.

My fellowship with the McCain and Bush Institutes reinforced my conviction that the world needs leaders capable of seeing beyond national borders and bringing people together around common principles to advance peace, freedom, and human dignity. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great unifier, saying that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”