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Ukraine: President Seeks U.S. Help To Strengthen Democracy

  • Andrew Tully

http://gdb.rferl.org/D85BF603-8294-4DCA-8BF8-E8707C9BCD01_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/D85BF603-8294-4DCA-8BF8-E8707C9BCD01_mw800_mh600.jpg Yushchenko and George W. Bush yesterday in Washington Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's visit to the United States this week culminated with a speech to a joint session of Congress. He extolled the shared democratic values of Ukrainians and Americans and vowed that, with U.S. help, he will lead his nation on the path towards prosperity and freedom.

Washington, 6 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Viktor Yushchenko was greeted with the first of many standing ovations and cheers as he entered the chamber of the House of Representatives to address both the House and the Senate.

The Ukrainian president strode to the podium and, as the chants subsided, began speaking of the new Ukraine and expressed awe at the foreign speakers who had addressed the Congress before him, including Winston Churchill, Lech Walesa, and Nelson Mandela.

And Yushchenko spoke of the gratitude that he and his fellow Ukrainians feel for the U.S. support of their Orange Revolution, which not only overthrew a "corrupt regime" but also demonstrated that Ukraine shares democratic values with the United States.

Yushchenko also expressed gratitude that it was in the United States that he found his wife, Cathy Kumachenko-Yushchenko. He said she has given him strength, particularly during the past few years of sometimes life-threatening political strife.

He said that under his leadership, Ukrainian diversity will be respected -- the rights of minorities, and the rights of people of all religious and political persuasions.

And, Yushchenko said, his promise includes journalists as well as politicians. He pointed to the case of Heorhiy Gongadze, whose death in 2000 has been blamed on former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma has denied any role in the case.

The Ukrainian leader vowed to bring to justice the killers of Gongadze and others. "Everyone who was killing politicians and journalists, who was leading the country towards a split, will stand trial," he said. "We have the political will to restore the Ukrainians' faith in justice. Our top priority task is to secure the independence of the judiciary."

Primarily, however, Yushchenko's mission was to ask for help for a country in need -- a country he described as having suffered the worst tragedies of the 20th century, including the famine of the early 1930s, orchestrated by Josef Stalin, that killed 20 million Ukrainians, and the Nazi invasion less than a decade later.

Yushchenko asked Congress to take eight steps to help "the new Ukraine." They include waiving visa restrictions for visiting Ukrainians, formally recognizing his country as having a market-based economy, and supporting Ukraine's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But the primary step, he said, would be to pass a bill -- now before the Senate -- that would exempt Ukraine from restrictions on trade with former Soviet states until they improve their emigration policies and democratic systems. These Cold War-era restrictions are known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, after its congressional co-sponsors.

"I believe that today, America is ready for great decisions too. I have no doubt that we will receive support for our efforts and our aspirations. We do not want any more walls dividing Europe, and I'm certain that neither do you," Yushchenko said.

As he has before, Yushchenko also asked for U.S. support in joining the European Union and NATO. He said entry into both would ensure a stronger, richer, and safer Europe.
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