By Master Sgt. Charles D. Larkin, USAF
United States European Command
Three years ago, United States European Command (EUCOM) consolidated several military installations located throughout Europe. As installations closed and buildings were emptied, office furniture, computers, beds, and other furniture and equipment piled up in warehouses, like the one operated by the US-Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Italy.
Thanks to the efforts of EUCOM and DSCA, some of those items were recently given a new home in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine, EUCOM officials, and members of local Ukrainian government and non-government organizations gathered at the brand-new Vinnytsia Community Education Center for an inauguration ceremony on April 27.
The project began in 2012 as a request from a local non-government organization. They wanted a resource center in their area to focus on public health and youth education for socially-vulnerable individuals. Additionally, the community center also addresses the problems of internal displaced persons (IDP) and human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation — often referred to as a modern-day form of slavery — is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity in Ukraine. Trafficking of women and children for this type of exploitation is a serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of victims and their families.
The Vinnytsia Community Education Center was previously an unoccupied building, but is now a newly renovated facility through cooperative efforts by EUCOM’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, the Office of Defense Cooperation, the United States Agency for International Development and local government and non-government agencies in Ukraine. Prior to the renovation, community education and social support activities were conducted at temporary sites in rented facilities. Sometimes, classes were even conducted in the homes of volunteers.
This community center project is just one of many involving U.S. and Ukraine partnerships. To date, the United States and Ukraine agencies have completed 35 humanitarian assistance projects in Ukraine over the past thirteen years and plan use these recent successful events as the framework for future projects.
“We have a long-standing relationship here,” said Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S Ambassador to Ukraine, during the inauguration ceremony. “Ukraine is going through a moment of unique testing and we are standing by the Ukrainian people jointly with our European partners, helping the Ukrainian people to choose their own future.”
The EUCOM Humanitarian Assistance Program also coordinated the transfer and delivery of excess property to a local school in Vinnytsia. The Vinnytsia Inclusive Education School #16 provides educational support to more than 1,000 students, including 23 disabled children. The students range from six to sixteen years of age and the population continues to grow each year.
School # 16 is expecting nearly a twenty percent increase in its student population by 2016 due to the displacement of families from Eastern Ukraine. EUCOM is planning to support another humanitarian assistance project scheduled to begin in the next 18 months at the school which will include building renovations and infrastructure improvements.
“Ukraine is a partner nation of the United States of America, ” said U.S. Army Maj. Wendy Zaborowski, EUCOM Civic Engagement office. “Through Defense Security Cooperation programs like Humanitarian Assistance renovations and Excess Property donations, we are able to partner with the Ukraine government to build its capacity and improve basic living conditions of its citizens, thus providing support for enduring stability in the future of Ukraine.”