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U.S. Helsinki Commission’s Trip to Ukraine

WASHINGTON – From July 5 to 9, 2007, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), a former Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission led a Congressional delegation to Ukraine for the 16th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. House Majority Leader Hoyer was the highest ranking Member of Congress to ever attend the session and was joined by U.S. Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) as well as Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Michael McNulty (D-NY) and Gwen Moore (D-WI).

On July 9, the OSCE PA adopted the Kyiv Declaration, which expresses regret at the lack of progress in resolving so-called “frozen conflicts” in the OSCE region and recommends strengthened action in several fields including migration and energy and environmental security, anti-Semitism and democracy in Belarus. This Declaration is the result of five days of work by the 250 parliamentarians who participated in the session and will be sent to the governments of the 56 OSCE participating States. (For more information on the Kyiv Declaration, please visit www.oscepa.org)

While in Kyiv, the delegation held direct talks with President Viktor Yushchenko on the political situation in Ukraine. “It was clear from our meeting with the President that the state of affairs here remains unsettled. And while the situation is not resolved, it is important to note an agreement has been reached, which I and my colleagues in the delegation welcome. The May 27 agreement resolves this political crisis through pre-term parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, and it is my sincere hope that this extremely important agreement is honored and implemented,” said Chairman Hastings.

House Majority Leader Hoyer added, “This trip comes at an important time in Ukrainian history; however, our message is clear. The people of Ukraine deserve to participate in free and fair elections to ensure the integrity of their democratic process continues to be preserved and protected.”

Members of the delegation also visited the Babi Yar Memorial with Rabbi Alexander Duchovny, Chief Progressive Rabbi of Kyiv and the Ukraine Union of the Progressive Jewish Congregations, where they laid a wreath in tribute to the more than 100,000 Ukrainians killed there during World War II – including 33,000 Jews from Kyiv that were shot in a two-day period in September 1941. This was one of the worst massacres of the Holocaust.

In addition, the delegation visited the Famine-Genocide Memorial (1932-33), where they met with survivor Eugenia Dallas. Ms. Dallas spoke of her experience as a famine survivor and what she had to do in order to survive. The memorial is dedicated to the millions of Ukrainians who died in one of the largest man-made famines to take place during the 20th century. Congressman McIntyre noted, “I was touched by Ms. Dallas’ story and by visiting this memorial. It is imperative that we raise awareness here in Washington of this terrible tragedy in an effort to ensure that this never happens again.”

The delegation also hosted a reception for parliamentarians from the United Kingdom and Canada where Chairman Hastings noted, “I am proud to stand with my friends from Canada, the United Kingdom and United States and I believe that it is important to recognize the long historical bonds our nations share. This historic partnership has faced challenges in the past; however the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with Britain and Canada and looks forward to continuing this unbreakable bond.”

The delegation also travelled to Chornobyl and visited the site where on April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, releasing radioactive materials across Europe.  While in Chornobyl the group visited the “ghost town” of Pripyat located right next to the nuclear plant, where after the explosion in 1986, its nearly 50,000 residents were told that they must leave immediately only taking their passports and money, never to return again. Senator Cardin noted, “I am very pleased to have travelled to Chornobyl to witness first hand what took place here in 1986. The devastation of this explosion will never be forgotten, but I am glad to see that the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant is at a turning point and is working to repair the damage that was done.”

In addition, the delegation also held bilateral meetings with parliamentarians of the Russian Duma, Ukrainian parliamentarians, as well as with parliamentary delegations from the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation.

Lastly, during the Annual Session, Congresswoman Hilda Solis was elected as Vice Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions for the OSCE PA. This Committee is responsible for addressing humanitarian and human rights-related threats to security and serves as a forum for examining the potential for cooperation within these areas. Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin noted, “Hilda’s two decades of public service is truly exemplified by her commitment to the guiding principles of the OSCE. In Congress, she has been a leader in the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and is an outspoken advocate for issues of importance to women and families. Hilda has also continued to play a tremendous role on the OSCE PA forum on gender issues. We are honored to serve with Hilda on the U.S. Helsinki Commission and know that she will be an excellent representative of the United States in her new post.”

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