Friday, May 29, 2009

Kateryna Yushchenko: Dreams come true

The names of the programs which you oversee contain the word "Future"-Children's Hospital of the Future, the conference "Education in the Future". What does the Future mean to you? How do you see the future of the world, Ukraine, your and your children's future?

K.Y. Children are the future of a nation, our message into the future. Our country's and our people's future depends on them. We must know and come to terms with our past to fully utilize and make decisions about our present and to plan and work toward the best future possible for ourselves and our children. That is why, all the programs of our Foundation, Ukraine 3000, fall into three categories: Ukraine Yesterday, Ukraine Today and Ukraine Tomorrow. The very name of our Foundation is forward looking - we want to help build a society and a future that will carry Ukraine and its people forward throughout this new millennium.

Every individual and every nation represents a sum of their past experiences. Ukrainian history is filled with glorious and tragic occurrences, times of heroism and times of betrayal.

If we do not appreciate this culture, this history, if we do not preserve it, who will? Foreign countries and cultures are like friends and neighbors, whom one should respect, enjoy, learn from, like and even adore. But Ukrainian culture is like one's own family, it deserves and requires more love, more responsibility. Our great prophet Taras Shevchenko told us to do so. "Learn from others but do not forget what is yours."

I am an optimist by nature and by religious belief. On the other hand, like every parent, I fear for the future and the world that we leave to our children. I fear the outbreak of war, violence, environmental problems.

I realize that my generation has been utterly fortunate not to have to live through the wars, famines, political and religious repressions of our parents and grandparents. My family works every day to ensure that our descendents also have this great fortune of circumstance and opportunity.

How can we rise a healthy generation if the healthcare reforms has stuck, and the state child and maternity support programs prove to be inefective?

K.Y. We strongly believe that it is time for Ukraine to offer the best medical treatment to all of our children, even those who have been given such tragic diagnoses as cancer, leukemia, genetic disease, organ disease. These diagnoses can be given to any one of our children, and it is absolutely unacceptable that currently the only hope these children have is to be treated abroad.

That is why we are fully committed to our Children's Hospital of the Future project. We already have begun training qualified personnel, have developed a world-standard architectural plan and a fully-encompassing medical program, have gone through all the steps to obtain a land plot, and have raised funding to begin the construction of this very necessary facility this year and buy some of the key technical equipment.

Several days ago, I returned from a conference in northern Italy, where our hospitals Ohmatdyt, Rivne and Zakarpattia Oblast Children's Hospitals signed agreements to work with a network of hospitals in Italy to treat our children and train our doctors. During that trip, I had a touching moment to observe an operation on a facial tumor of a Ukrainian girl, the ninth child who has already received treatment under this particular partnership with the Italians. Thousands of other children have also been cured in Ukraine and abroad in the framework of our Hospital to Hospital program.

Our newest program is called "Dreams Come True", where we try to fulfill the dreams of children suffering from cancer and leukemia. Sometimes these wishes are small material things - toys, books - other times they involve meeting someone famous whom they consider a hero. We give these gifts and arrange these get-togethers quietly, usually without any media whatsoever. I am grateful to those individuals in sports, music, politics and business who have responded to our requests and found the time and resources to fulfill these small but oh so important desires.

Can you compare Ukraine today to Ukraine you saw first? What has changed?

K.Y. Ukraine today is much different from the country I first saw and fell in love with. Kyiv has become a true European capital. People now have the right to vote and freedom of speech. Ukrainians are able to travel to other countries and return home with European standards of living, education, business skills. Ukrainians no longer have to hide their spiritual values, they are not afraid to be arrested for their faith in God.

I first came to Ukraine in 1975, when I was 13. This trip left many conflicting impressions. Standards of life were low, people were poor. I remember being surprised at how rude salespeople in shops could be. But I loved Kyiv from the very beginning. The people I met were well-educated and intelligent, kind and very hospitable.

At 13 I visited a part of a totalitarian empire - obedient, dull, and controlled. Today I live in a powerful, independent state with a unique spirit and progressive goals.

Though I visited Ukraine several times after 1975, I moved here in 1991. In the beginning of the 1990s, after decades of Communism, Ukraine was a fragile state. At that time, many leading world politicians even doubted Ukraine's future as an independent state.

Today this situation is radically changed. We can now state clearly - the Ukrainian state is here to stay. Today I can say confidently that the democratic changes in our country are irreversible. Even more, today our state is seeking its place in the union of European countries and the Euro-Atlantic community, the richest and most developed nations on the planet. Of course, we still face many obstacles along this path that we must overcome, but in the beginning and mid 1990s only true optimists believed these perspectives were possible. Today they are a reality.

Do you consider Ukraine a free country? What does freedom mean to you?

K.Y. Ukrainians demonstrated their aspiration for freedom to the world in 2004, when they came out on the Maidan. I know that many people in Europe, America, Canada and other countries were very moved. They told me: "You reminded us of the price of freedom, and you did this beautifully, with smiles, positive emotions, peace and you became role models for us." In 2005, Freedom House put Ukraine into the category of "free countries" for the first time, and we became a part of the free world. I am certain that we will not go back.

For me, responsibility is key to freedom. I believe that Ukrainians are beginning to be more responsible for their country, their region, their community, their family and themselves.

European society is characterized not only by formal rules, but also unwritten moral values, what can be called a common European spirit. Do you see signs of this spirit in Ukraine?

K.Y. Ukraine is not just a country that strives to be a part of Europe, it is indeed one of the creators of today's Europe. Our ancestors were integral to the formation of Europe's political history and philosophy, its economy, its musical and literary culture. And our diaspora, in the past and over the recent decades, has also had its impact.

I believe that over the last few years we have done a great deal to build a society based on European values. Seventy years of communism, however, did much to ruin the faith and spirit of Ukrainians. Many aspects of life were linked to materialism, while high moral values were purposefully moved to the sideway.

In time, fundamental European values such as faith, a feeling of responsibility not only for each other, but also before God, will triumph. These processes many take a while, but when I visit universities, I see that our youth already possess a different mentality, they already think as Europeans.

How do you think values of humaneness are being established at the state, institutional and individual levels?

K.Y. Humaneness is not just the result of certain actions. It is a state of the soul, the state of our society. I am glad that over the past years there has been significant progress in the humanization of Ukrainian society, of the Ukrainian state.

National programs aimed at resolving the problem of homeless children, creating family-type homes have become a state priority. The state is also beginning to improve its policies toward the disabled. We are creating better legal norms to regulate and encourage charitable activity, though there is still much to be done in this area.

At the institutional level there has been much improvement. Charity and philanthropy in Ukraine are becoming the norm. Not only are new charitable foundations being created, but those involved in charity are uniting to make their assistance more effective for those who require it.

Last year, I took part in a program at the Davos Forum that discussed charity around the world, and I was proud that Ukrainians could talk not only about the charitable traditions of our past, but about dozens of new initiatives that met world standards of good deeds and societal responsibility.

In your opinion, what are the key questions facing humanity today? How can Ukraine help to resolve them?

K.Y. I am not being original when I say that humanity is at a crossroads and faces a number of global challenges, and that our future depends on resolving these challenges.

These primarily include AIDS, the poverty of two-thirds of the world's population, and global ecological concerns. Ukraine plays an important role in the work of global institutions addressing problems facing humanity today and a number of international organizations operate in Ukraine.

President Yushchenko has made the fight against AIDS and tuberculosis a state priority. The state looks differently at family and children's issues also. As a result, in 2006 we saw an 8 percent rise in our birthrate, the first since our independence. In three regions we have even seen a positive growth in the number of births versus deaths.

Russian director Andron Konchalovsky said that he is planning to make a film about Ukraine in the times of Leonid Kuchma. If a film were made about the times of Victor Yushchenko, what episodes would you expect to see?

K.Y. Unfortunately, many films reflect only the thoughts and points of view of those who fund them. I think that now is not the time to make political films, but to work. The times of President Kuchma are behind us, and it is possible to draw conclusions. The times of President Yushchenko are not over, and we are living through them together and creating them together.

I think that future films about the times of President Yushchenko will be films about freedom and the renewal of society, that they will be emotional and engaging.

What qualities do you most value in men?

K.Y. I grew up in a family where my parents treated each other with great warmth, respect and love. For me, the example of a real man was and remains my father, who lived a difficult but dignified life and who was able even in a strange land to keep in his heart a little part of his homeland.

In my opinion, the best male qualities are dependability, common sense, wisdom. This is a man who believes in God, does not forsake his principles, this is a patriot who knows and respects the history of his people, his culture and traditions. This is a man who knows how to tell the truth, no matter how bitter it is. This is a man who works hard at work and at home. This is a father who serves as an authority figure for his children.

All these qualities, which my father had, I also found in my husband. This is also how I wish to raise my son.

Where is it easier to be a woman, in the US or in Ukraine?

K.Y. I was always impressed by Ukrainian women - they are strong and good, feminine and courageous, good professionals and wonderful mothers. Women were always the basis of the Ukrainian family, our traditions, mentality.

I knew many great Ukrainian women in America, who were never afraid to work even in difficult times. For me, Ukrainian diaspora mothers were always role models. Week after week, year after year they worked in our churches, schools and youth groups. They made varenyky and sold them, and with the money they raised they built churches, supported homes for senior citizens and hospices for the sick.

A great advantage of America that rarely exists elsewhere is that almost any person can rise to high position, and almost any well-placed person can fall. There really are equal rights for all, including women.

I think that in Ukraine we have seen a lot of progress in this area. I believe that the lives of women in Ukraine can be improved if we create more economic opportunities for women, help them find dignified jobs at good pay, give them a chance to combine work and family.

I have the opportunity to see many of our women who work in education, medicine, culture and other areas. And I am constantly impressed with their beauty, intelligence, strength and optimism. I believe in Ukrainian women and that the role of women in Ukraine, which was always important, will obtain the level necessary in today's world.

I would like to see every woman realize herself in all aspects of her arduous existence on Earth. Without a doubt, I wish all women happiness in their family lives, a good husband and children. But it is also important that a woman is able to fulfill herself as an individual and a professional. Then she will be respected more by her husband and children and, most importantly, her own self-worth and self-respect will be greater.