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Diversity, Ukraine, and Impeachment

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There’s a diversity angle in the impeachment hearings you may have overlooked.

It’s not just about Trump.

And it’s more than just his sexist treatment  of the hearing’s most compelling witness, the former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovich. The president’s live tweeting smear of the diplomat as she described how the president had her yanked without reason from her post has been the highlight to date.

But it doesn’t have the full impact emotionally unless you know a little more about Ukraine and its proud people who have overcome mass starvation and invasions for centuries.

And they continue to struggle to be free from tyranny and corruption.

If you think following all the impeachment details are complex, you should read through Ukrainian history. If you can’t find it on the map or know its history, don’t worry. Look up your campus’ Ukrainian scholar. Short of that, Wikipedia will give you a thumbnail. You’ll just need a lot of thumbs. You’ll be surprised to learn that Ukraine’s history goes back to 43,000-45,000 BC. They didn’t have text messaging back then. Just cave paintings.

That’s what Neanderthal settlers did.  (The real ones. Not Trump’s base). Ukraine has a long rich resume through the centuries that includes multiple invasions and even mass starvation.

Through both World Wars, Ukraine has always been someone’s political football, and ultimately became a part of the Soviet Union. But in 1991, it became free and independent once again.

And that’s when things get interesting in terms of what Ukraine means to modern Americans.

“Support of Ukraine’s success fits squarely into our strategy for central and Eastern Europe since the fall of the Wall 30 years ago,” said George Kent, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Easten Europe and the Caucasus, as he opened the historic impeachment session’s first round  last Wednesday. “A Europe truly whole, free, and at peace—our strategic aim for the entirety of my foreign service career—is not possible without a Ukraine whole, free and at peace, including Crimea and Donbas, territories currently occupied by Russia.”

Emil Guillermo

It begins to answer why we should care.

Kent’s opening statement referred to Ukraine’s  Revolution of Dignity in 2014, when the people forced a corrupt pro-Russian leadership into retreat to Moscow. Russia then invaded Ukraine occupying a part of the nation the size of Texas.

“Ukrainian civil society answered the challenge,” said Kent. “They formed volunteer battalions of citizens, including technology professionals and medics. They crowd-sourced funding for their own weapons, body armor, and supplies. They were the 21st century Ukrainian equivalent of our own Minutemen in 1776, buying time for the regular army to reconstitute.

“Since then, more than 13,000 Ukrainians have died on Ukrainian soil defending their territorial integrity and sovereignty from Russian aggression. American support in Ukraine’s own de facto war of independence has been critical in this regard.”

There’s something about a people yearning to be free that connects them to our own fight for democracy.

Kent further elaborated.

“By analogy, the American colonies may not have prevailed against British imperial might without help from transatlantic friends after 1776. In an echo of Lafayette’s organized assistance to General George Washington’s army and Admiral John Paul Jones’ navy, Congress has generously appropriated over $1.5 billion over the past five years in desperately needed train and equip security assistance to Ukraine. These funds increase Ukraine’s strength and ability to fight Russian aggression. Ultimately, Ukraine is on a path to become a full security partner of the United States within NATO.”

In all the cable news post-mortems, the bow-tied Kent doesn’t get talked about much.

But that opening statement explains a  passion for democracy that all  Ukrainians and Americans  should feel coming out of the hearings.

“At the heart of that change mandate five years after Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity is a thirst for justice, because there cannot be dignity without justice,” Kent said. “Without a reformed judicial sector that delivers justice with integrity for all, Ukrainian society will be unsettled. Foreign investors will not bring the investment needed to ensure Ukraine’s long-term prosperity.

“This is why the principled promotion of the rule of law and institutional integrity has been so necessary to our strategy for a successful Ukraine.”

The history of Ukraine is the complicated part. Kent simplified it and explained why you should care.

It’s also why you should be outraged at what President Trump is accused of doing, using tax-dollars intended for Ukraine as a bargaining chip to help himself.

It boils down to a simple act of bribery, an impeachable offense, according to the Constitution.

The president suggests you simply read the  rough transcript of his July  25th call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

The facts are there.

Ukraine is desperately trying to ward off Russia and needs weapons. The U.S. has withheld nearly $391 million in military aid.  Zelensky says he’s ready to continue to cooperate in order to buy more Javelins (anti-tank missiles) from the United States for defense purposes.

Then Trump says the key phrase:  “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”

Trump also suggests that his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and the Attorney General William Barr call Zelensky to look into another matter–a conspiracy theory spread around the internet about Joe Biden’s son and his dealings in Ukraine that’s been totally debunked. But the investigation is meant as  opposition research on Trump’s main challenger for re-election.

That’s the description of a bribe.

Please note: No one ever disputes the president’s actions.

But soon we’ll hear publicly from Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, who has already testified behind closed doors. He was on that July 25 phone call that Trump calls “perfect.”

Vindman was the top Ukraine expert for the White House, and said he reported concerns to his superiors that the president was linking foreign aid in exchange for political dirt on the Bidens.

Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, and a Ukrainian immigrant,  has already been smeared by zealous Republicans who took his being born in Ukraine as a sign he was a double agent.

Asian Americans know what that’s like. It’s no different from being a scientist in a university lab and people wondering if you’re a Chinese spy. Happens all the time. In the last month, it’s happened to Vindman. Will it continue? Or will Trump and his ilk find some other way to smear a man in uniform?

When Vindman testifies, we should thank him for his service and his patriotism.

It’s all compelling if you’re paying attention. That July 25th call was important. But it all began months before when U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovich was given orders to leave Ukraine on the next plane.

She was fighting the bad guys, and trying to keep Ukraine independent and free— from Russia.

That’s at the heart of it all–Ukraine, yearning  to have a great democracy, just like ours.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok. 

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