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Ukraine: Stronger Together
Episode 78th October 2021 • Democracy! The Podcast • CEPPS Advisor Adrienne Ross, Fmr Deputy Asst Secretary Strategic Communications, US Dept of State, Journalist
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“It's my goal to bring real clear rules [to Ukrainian politics] like in sports. If you break the rules in sports, you pay a penalty, or are disqualified...we try to give the executives exactly the same standards in Ukrainian politics.” The Honorable Mayor Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv & former world heavy weight boxing champion.

Key Links

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Ukraine’s 30 years of statehood have been marked by a series of highs and lows, like the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity in 2014, on an unswerving path towards a more stable democracy.

In this episode of Democracy! The Podcast, we are joined by all three of the consortium’s members to talk about the power of their partnerships. From the disinformation of COVID-19, to strengthening Ukraine’s electoral institutions, hear how IFES, IRI, and NDI work side by side with Ukrainians to capitalize on their democratic superpowers in support of the country’s continued independence. 

Then, Dr. Ironfist, aka, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, and current Mayor of Kyiv, the Honorable Vitali Klitschko, sits down with Adrienne to discuss how his years in the boxing ring prepared him to take on the fight for democracy in his homeland. 

Democracy! The Podcast is brought to you by the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) with support from the United States Agency for International Development through the Global Elections and Political Transitions Award.  

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Follow CEPPS on Twitter

Democracy! The Podcast is hosted by CEPPS and Adrienne Ross. 

This podcast has been produced by the Consortium for Elections, and Political Process Strengthening through the Global Elections and Political Transitions award and is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development.

Opinions expressed here are those of the host and the guests and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the US Government.  This show is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media.



This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Transcripts

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Hi, and welcome to Democracy!

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The Podcast that shines light on some of the darkest challenges facing the

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fight for democracy around the globe.

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"Democracy will and must prevail."

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[President Biden]

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This podcast is brought to you by the Consortium for Elections and

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Political Process Strengthening direct from Washington, DC, with support

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from our friends at the United States Agency for International Development

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through the Global Elections and Political Transitions Award.

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I'm your host, Adrienne Ross.

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When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the future of Ukraine was not certain.

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Yet this year, despite a peace that has been plagued with chronic

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instability and political turbulence, Ukrainians are celebrating thirty

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years of hard-fought independence.

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Ahead, we sit down with all three of the Consortium's Country

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Directors to talk about how working together makes democracy stronger.

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And then, against the ropes his name is Dr.

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Iron Fist, but today we'll call him Mr.

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Mayor.

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The honorable Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv, is just one of the

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country's many popular mayors.

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He joins me to talk about his tremendous turn from World Title Heavyweight Boxing

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Champ to Mayor of Ukraine's largest city.

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First, a quick, 360-degree look at Ukraine's democracy.

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As Ukraine marks thirty years of statehood this year, citizens can look back with

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confidence that their country has made the historic leap from its authoritarian past.

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While democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power are hallmarks of the

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modern Ukrainian democracy, this nation has not been without its challenges.

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In 2004, the Orange Revolution objected to massive corruption, voter intimidation,

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and electoral fraud in the aftermath of the presidential race that year

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and brought great hope of progress.

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Then, in 2014, the Euromaidan Revolution of Dignity rejected the authoritarian

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direction its government was taking by suspending the signing of an association

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agreement with the European Union.

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Meanwhile, Russian military aggression was taking place in Crimea and

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Eastern Ukraine, which remain under Russian occupation today.

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We're joined now, direct from Kyiv, by the Consortium's three

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Country Directors for Ukraine.

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These guys are among the best in the field at what they do and have been doing this

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work together for many years in Ukraine.

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The secret to their sauce, they tell me, is how well the teams work together.

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Michael Druckman leads the mission for the International Republican Institute, Peter

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Erben joins us from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems,

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and Ian Woodward is here on behalf of the National Democratic Institute.

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I first asked them how the COVID situation is on the ground in Ukraine.

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Unfortunately, the disinformation around vaccines and hesitancy towards vaccines,

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both domestic and also international actors, has played a role in this, but by

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the time we get to spring, we're hoping that things have stabilized somewhat.

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We work very hard within our programs to ensure also that recipients are

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kept safe in activities that we are associated with, and maybe no more so

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than in the actions themselves, where CEPPS has made a significant effort,

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ensuring that voters that would come to the polls were as protected as possible.

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And data shows very clearly that electoral events that we've had

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during COVID have not lead to a mass spreading event, partly because of the

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work conducted by the Consortium and very, very well-supported by USAID.

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For anyone who doesn't understand how you all partner together under

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the Consortium, will you please explain the basic setup here?

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For those real people in the world that don't live with acronyms, CEPPS

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is the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening.

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And we here in Ukraine have been working under the CEPPS umbrella

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for the last twenty years.

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We have been working together, the National Democratic Institute along

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with the International Republican Institute and the International

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Foundation for Electoral Systems, so known as NDI, IRI, and IFES, we've been

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working together since 2016 through a USAID-supported project called Ukraine

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Responsive and Accountable Politics.

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We work together - we work independently and together with political

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parties, the Ukrainian parliament, government officials, civil society

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organizations, the central election commission, and the National Agency

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on the Prevention of Corruption.

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And the goal of that work, the easiest way to understand what it is

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we do, is that we help connect real people with the institutions that

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want and mean to represent them.

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Can you talk a little bit about what each partner brings to the table in Ukraine?

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We have very different recipients, especially when it comes to our

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CEPPS programming in Ukraine.

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There's a clear division just by the recipients that we address.

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But also over time, I think we've developed different super powers,

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things that we on our team have staff that are particularly good at.

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And in our case [IFES], because we deal a lot in legislation, we work

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a lot in parliament with legislative strengthening and drafting laws

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or working in committees and so forth, we're part of the day-to-day.

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Under Former President Yanukovych, when Ukraine was really in a very dark period

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in terms of its democratic development, we were fortunate enough to, at that

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time, be working at the local level where really the last remaining independent

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democratic actors were city mayors.

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And that was an area that we were very happy to be in, that we

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were able to see some glimmers of hope in that period, up to 2014.

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And we have continued to work in.

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USAID has done a great job of delineating these areas of responsibility

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and expertise in the country.

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And we've continued to expand upon our work with local governments, and that

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data is not just useful for us, our partners in local government, partners

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in political parties, but for other USAID programs, whether they be focused on

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local economic development, the health sector, particularly under COVID, looking

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at why certain city's residents are more reticent to take a vaccine than others.

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And to look at the local level, what are the differences in terms of how you

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might develop an information campaign.

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The thing is we all are focused on supporting different partners,

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but there are times when we need a bit of expertise from the other.

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And my personal favorite thing about the teamwork that we have is that

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we're able to call on each other whenever that's needed and contribute.

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We outside of Ukraine understand that the information space is sometimes compromised

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and maybe severely compromised at times.

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How do you walk your work through that?

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Well, we see the Consortium works this issue at all levels and is

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very well aware of the problems that exist, the challenges, but

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also that we need to find solutions.

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At the top level, we try everything we can to help assist our recipients

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in developing best possible skills of strategic communication in countering

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disinformation and false narratives.

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We also believe that it's extremely important that we look at this as a

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generational issue, in that over time, in order for Ukraine to strengthen

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as a democracy, new generations, the young generations need to be

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very savvy in the way that they consume information and process it.

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And we all have different programming that addresses that.

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IFES, as an example, has a countrywide civic education program, currently forty

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leading universities all over the country.

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And there's a lot of ways we can approach this and how the partners approach this.

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The first is, going back to data, we have local partners that are the

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consumers of, and clients of our data, but we also have national government

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figures and ministries that can look at our data when we're testing

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particular disinformation narratives.

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Such as, before the 2020 local elections, working with USAID and through the

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CEPPS Consortium to monitor in ten Ukrainian cities what types of social

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media narratives we were seeing and to try and attribute the sources

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of those disinflation narratives.

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Again, it's helpful for a wide range of actors and also for the

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Ukrainian government to look at what are we seeing and where.

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The second area I would say, in my personal opinion, is maybe a little more

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impactful from our perspective working at the local level is facilitating

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inter-regional exchanges in Ukraine.

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There's a perception outside of Ukraine, or there has been, that this is a very

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small country comparatively to, let's say, the neighbor to the east, that

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everyone travels around, everyone's moving, people travel from the east

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to the west, and that's not true.

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Prior to 2014, this was a city where all roads, trains, and planes led to Kyiv.

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If you grew up in Eastern Ukraine, you went to university there, you

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went to work there, you spent your summers at a cottage outside your

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city, and you went on vacation to Turkey or Egypt on a package tour.

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Similarly in Western Ukraine, you weren't traveling between these

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regions, and having these bubbles of isolation in different pockets of the

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population naturally can create breeding grounds for separate narratives.

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So when we look at the disinformation issue in Ukraine, it's not

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necessarily east versus west, or Russian-speaking, Ukrainian-speaking.

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It's a matter of have people had contact, know each other in other cities.

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So if we can bring a city council from Eastern Ukraine to Western Ukraine

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and vice versa and have them work on a specific issue, but also as a

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force multiplier, establish other connections and more personal, practical,

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professional-level that they can then take back to their communities and say,

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"No, actually I was there in city X or Y, and this is what I saw with my own eyes."

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You all are looking at the possibility of going back into lockdown.

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How has COVID affected this disinformation space, Ian, and have you had to

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change your way of doing business?

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One of the indirect ways to combat disinformation, obviously, is to

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build trust in institutions that are communicating real information, fact-based

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information that we need people to understand, or that the government needs

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people to understand and listen to.

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And so working directly with our partners to help them really communicate better

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and cut through some of the disinformation environment is very, very important.

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There is a lot of disinformation in Ukraine that is both homegrown

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and coming from outside Ukraine about the virus, about the vaccines.

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And we have had, as we discussed earlier in the segment, we have had

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rollout to the vaccine go pretty well considering we're at the early stages.

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But there is some hesitancy here.

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Has COVID changed the way we do business?

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It has changed almost every element of the way we do business.

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NDI, IRI, and IFES are organizations that specialize in bringing people together.

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The most difficult thing to do right now is actually to bring people together.

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We bring people together to learn from each other.

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We bring people together so that they can learn together and build community

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because it is through the community building that you're able to do difficult

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things like reach political consensus or to promote a political party.

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So, all of our activities have had to change as a result of this.

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It sounds to me, really, like Ukraine has stabilized quite

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significantly at this time.

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Is that a misconception?

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Michael, do you want to start us with this question?

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I don't know if it's a misconception, but things can change here so rapidly.

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Take, for example, the election of 2019.

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If you went back even a year prior, you would not have seen the three of

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us at a table talk about the electoral results we had in 2019, where we had a

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brand new president, someone brand new to the political scene, really bringing

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in a new movement of people that, not just followed an election through their

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phones, but then went to the ballot box.

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So seeing that change in politics was quite incredible.

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What we're seeing now, what I would say, particularly from where the CEPPS

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Consortium is positioned, both looking at the national level, looking at the

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legislative agenda, the reform agenda, but also looking at what's happening at

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the local level, while we've seen great success with the decentralization reform

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launched by the previous government under President Poroshenko that's

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continued through President Zelensky's administration, we've seen the rise

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of incredibly popular local mayors.

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And not just in one region, but in Mariupol in Eastern Ukraine, several in

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Western Ukraine where traditionally we've seen very high levels of satisfaction, but

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cities in the center like Kropyvnytskyi and Chernihiv have also increased

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their ratings and therefore increased their political influence as well.

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And I think what we may see down the road is greater friction between

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the national level and the local level as local authorities have

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been granted so much new authority.

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So seeing how that relationship between the central authorities, which are

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represented significantly by one political party that does not have much influence

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at the local level, how they interact with these other different political

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actors with smaller political parties is going to be something very interesting.

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If you look back to the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, you can see

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a demand from the Ukrainian people that has really not faltered in

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any way, even through the change in leadership at the top level in 2019.

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And that demand is that government really is responsive to the

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needs and opinions of citizens.

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That change, I think, was an irreversible one back in 2014.

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You can see it in the data that we collect that this demand is strong.

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The desire for citizen participation of all kinds is extremely strong.

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People really, really want to see government listening and delivering.

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I think we're seeing steady improvement, and certainly seeing

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the fruit of our work and the work of all of our partners around Ukraine.

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And this does not mean that democracy is stable and strong.

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It is still something that needs to be nurtured very, very carefully because

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as we move into the parliamentary elections in '23 and the presidential

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in '24, we might have a highly competitive environment and a

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quite fragile electoral situation.

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Hence, there's a significant need for further strengthening of all aspects

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of the political and electoral process.

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What role do you think the international community should play

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in helping Ukraine in the future?

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There's a very strong will in Ukraine to continue strengthening society and

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general democracy as we work on it.

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I think that includes a very strong will to partner with the international

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friends of Ukraine, be they nations, be they organizations, be they individual

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personalities and experts and so forth.

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So it is an extremely conducive environment to work in where there is an

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openness and a collaboration to what we all bring to the table and a true sense

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of partnership between Ukrainians and us.

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And that makes it an environment where the investment that we made

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is really leveraged quite well.

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I've been here throughout the pandemic, and one of the things that I think has

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hurt Ukraine in the last year and a half is the fact that we have had less

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interaction in Ukraine with international visitors than we normally would.

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That lack of direct, person-to-person engagement comes at a cost.

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But I would think that one of the best ways the international community

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could help is by coming and seeing the amazing people that we three see

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every day, and really listening to our partners and hearing about the things

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they are trying to achieve, the things that they are achieving, the struggles

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that they're having, and the help that they need to finish the last mile on

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whatever it is they're working on.

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I think it's also important to think of how, as we see and I think is widely

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becoming more recognized, is how Ukraine wants to play a bigger role itself in

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working with the international community and tackling some of the bigger problems.

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You could see that just recently in Afghanistan, where Ukraine leveraged

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its expertise in heavy air lift capacity to help with the evacuation,

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actually deploying Ukrainian special forces to facilitate that.

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Again, not a member of NATO, not in the EU, but being right there.

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During the pandemic, again, helping fly PPE around the world.

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We see what's happening with Eastern Eukraine and Crimea, facilitating

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the Crimea platform event just last month to, again, to draw international

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attention, not asking for assistance, but to formally bring together partners

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on an equal footing and how we tackle returning the illegally annexed territory.

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And I think something that international partners should

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look at doing is how can we help Ukrainians leverage their expertise

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in addressing some of these issues.

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So when it comes to the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and

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Luhansk, how can we facilitate those Ukrainian citizens, NGOs, local officials,

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local businesses that are doing very well in government-controlled Ukraine, to be an

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example for what's happening just across the line so that when Ukrainians come out

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of occupied Crimea for government services in Kherson, they see the dividends of the

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Euromaidan Revolution decentralization, and have something to contrast.

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And lastly, I would say to help Ukraine leverage its multilingualism and

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multiculturalism to be a real beacon in the former, let's say, former Soviet

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space, Eastern European space, for those in Belarus, those in the Russian

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Federation, Ukraine provides an amazing, not just example, but the complete

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antithesis of what those citizens see on their TV is happening and the types of

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opportunities that citizens can have here.

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When I think about the inspiration that I have to do the work that we

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do, it really comes from our partners.

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In particular, there is an energy and a desire and a drive really to

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change fundamentally the relationship between government and people.

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That energy and desire and drive really is best personified in

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those two groups, really the young and the women leaders in Ukraine.

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And if I was going to give a guest to Ukraine a tour of what

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we do, that's where I would start.

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Ian Woodward, Peter Erben, Michael Druckman, thank you so much for joining

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us today, and thank you for showing us how much better we are when we work together.

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Absolutely.

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Thank you for the opportunity.

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As we just heard, one of Ukraine's keys to success has been the

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triumph of the local mayor.

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And today we're joined by one of those Ukrainians, the Mayor of Kyiv.

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The Honorable Vitali Klitschko is a former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.

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He held the World Boxing title from 1999 to 2000, and has defeated fifteen

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fighters for the World Heavyweight title.

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Suffice to say he is a big deal in the boxing ring.

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He's also a big deal among Ukraine's mayors.

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He joins us now to talk about governance and what it's been like to lead

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Ukraine's largest city since 2014.

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Your rise to politics has been a little unique.

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First, can you tell us if any similarities exist between being a professional

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boxer and the fight for democracy?

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To be honest, to be the heavyweight champion of the world would be much

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easier than to be a politician in Ukraine.

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The Ukraine is a pretty young country, just thirty years of independency

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we celebrated a couple months ago.

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But to compare sport life and political life, there are actually

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no clear rules in Ukrainian politics.

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I can compare Ukraine politics, similar not with boxing, but

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much more similar with MMA.

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But it's my goal to bring real clear rules like in sport.

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If you break the rules in sport, you pay penalty or you're disqualified.

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That's why we try to give these executives the same standards in Ukrainian politics.

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I laugh, but we both know democracy is serious business and the United

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States struggles just like every other country struggles a bit with democracy.

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So I certainly appreciate your response.

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Switching gears a little bit to a more serious topic.

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When we talk about the war in Ukraine, can you tell me how the war has

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changed or influenced your role as mayor after the Euromaidan Revolution?

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The war changed life for every Ukrainian.

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We Ukrainians pay for democracy, for our European way of development

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of our country a pretty big price.

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The price is more than 10,000 lives, and more than 30,000 citizens of

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our hometown go through the war.

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Right now, I don't need to explain, everybody understands.

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This war in east of Ukraine made with huge support of our east neighbor of

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Russian Federation because everybody understands the result, brainwashing.

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Based on what you just said about how difficult it has been with the war,

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the citizens become more important than ever in this circumstance.

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Have you had to rethink how you talk to your constituents,

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the people who vote for you?

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Have you had to change?

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Right now, we understand how important a great result, a very

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fast result for our country, results which fuel every citizen in Ukraine.

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That's why I have a great answer, the best answer for our friends and

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also for our enemies - our success, our political success, our economical

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success, success of our country.

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And that's why I make my job nonstop to citizens in, especially in the south.

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I am responsible for capital of Ukraine, new infrastructure objective,

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new walls, new preschools, new schools, parks, beaches, and to ensure

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their local government works well.

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We talked a little bit about what's difficult about being mayor.

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What have you enjoyed the most about being mayor?

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I'm enjoying it because I change lives every day of the people.

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And I enjoy that anyone, if I go to the street and check on objectives

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such as the new roads, the people come to me and tell me, "Mr.

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Mayor, thank you so much for your job.

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We enjoy so much the new preschool where our children go.

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We enjoy the new roads that we drive on.

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We see the changes in our city."

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It's a much more enjoyable part of my job.

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And they're seeing results from democracy, it sounds like.

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And to see the feedback of people who enjoy and see the results of what you're

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doing and they're very appreciative.

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It's actually the biggest part and the biggest enjoyable part of my job.

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Kyiv is one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe.

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We calculate the people who live in our city with cell phones, with JSM operator.

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And I've said this, during the night in our hometown sleep 3.6 million people.

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During the day, the people come from many districts to our

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city so it's one million more.

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Kyiv is a very green city, one of the greenest cities in Europe.

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We have a lot of parks and green zones.

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We have a lot of art in the art center.

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It's a very historical city.

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Everyone who comes to our city is very surprised at how beautiful a city it

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is, how European a city, how guest friendly the people are who live here.

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That's why, as Mayor of Kyiv, I use the moment and want to

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invite everyone, welcome to Kyiv.

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Welcome to Ukraine.

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I promise you'll receive here in Kyiv unforgettable emotion, positive

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emotion throughout the streets.

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The city's really beautiful, and if you find the time, you're always welcome.

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Well, that is quite an invitation, and I think many of our listeners

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will probably take you up on that.

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We do, though, here in the United States in particular, see a lot of

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different headlines from Ukraine about a real struggle for democracy.

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How do you think your constituents feel about democracy and how do you think it's

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doing overall in your country right now?

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It's a political fight and competition between the ideas.

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It's very good for democracy.

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And at this point, Ukraine has a huge difference from our neighbors, Russia.

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And after the Revolution of Dignity, we made the choice to

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build a real democracy, a European democracy, for us is a priority.

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I'm skeptical sometimes.

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Many countries have also celebrated thirty years of indepency.

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For example, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Republic of

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Hunga ry, the former Soviet block.

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When the Iron Curtain fell down, these countries have, everybody

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has the same stock position.

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And we see how our neighbors, for example, Poland, actually do it

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pretty well, development in this way.

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They're already part of the European family, the European

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Union, and have made huge progress.

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And we in the thirty years have declared a lot, but not implemented so many growing

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points for development of our country, for our independency, for our democracy.

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That's why we Ukrainians continue our fight for, work for our values, for our

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goals, for our vision to be really a democratic European country, Ukraine.

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We're fighting for that.

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And it's not an easy fight.

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It's a lot of challenges in this way because all changes start

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from the heart of the country, from the capital, from Kyiv.

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And that's why it's my personal responsibility to change, not just

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the capital of Ukraine to change, I'm responsible also for the whole

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country because Kyiv shows an example for every city, for every

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village, for every Ukrainian.

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Is that key, do you think, that approach that Kyiv is responsible for the country?

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Has that been key in your success?

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The key of success, you have to do it well and give the best of

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everything of you to be successful.

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Success of one person communicates success of thousands or millions

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of people brings the result of success of the country.

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And that's why we're hungry.

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We're hungry to be successful.

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And because no fight, no win.

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We continue to fight for our hometown, for our home country.

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The question of the time, we want to do it as fast as possible.

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And thank you one more time for all friends who support Ukraine, who

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support Kyiv, who support my home country to be a successful, democratic

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country in the world, to be part of the big family of democratic countries.

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Mayor Vitali Klitschko, thank you so much for joining us today.

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This podcast has been produced by the Consortium for Elections and Political

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Process Strengthening through the Global Elections and Political Transitions

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Award, and is made possible by the generous support of the American

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people through the United States Agency for International Development.

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Opinions expressed here are those of the hosts and the guests,

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and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the U.S.

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Government, and is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media.

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For more information on Democracy!

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The Podcast, and to access the complete archives, please

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