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U.S. Embassy worker talks about Ukraine at Durango Rotary Club meeting

Durango man shares thoughts on war
Ryan McGee, center, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, for the last three years, presented a data- and history-driven presentation to the Rotary Club of Durango at the Strater Hotel on Tuesday evening. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Durango resident Ryan McGee, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv for the last three years, says the war between Ukraine and Russia is about democracy versus authoritarianism.

He gave a presentation Tuesday to the Durango Evening Rotary Club about Ukrainian history, its people and the culture.

McGee said he was not allowed to describe the work he did or the organizations he worked for while working from the U.S. Embassy. But he said that global economies, including the United States’, Ukraine’s and Russia’s, are so interconnected today that the war unfolding doesn’t resemble what a war fought in Ukraine 30 years ago would have looked like.

For example, Ukraine’s largest industries are agriculture (wheat), manufacturing (PVC pipes) and information technology, he said.

“It does impact Americans directly. Especially American values – standing for democracy, standing for a free press, all of these things are important to what America is today, those are what (is at stake in Ukraine), that is what this war is about,” he said. “It’s a war between representative democracy and an authoritarian, totalitarian (state).”

An ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine shows the most common languages across the country. The map was presented Tuesday by Ryan McGee, who worked for the last three years from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

McGee said working in Ukraine was a refreshing experience. He has worked in various countries throughout his career, but he has made some of the most “amazing” friends of anywhere he’s visited.

He said the Ukrainian government’s willingness to improve for the benefit of its citizens amazed him and is refreshing.

“I’ve worked in a lot of countries, not all of which had their citizens in mind at all times,” he said. “And we can even see this in the United States in many places, right? But the Ukrainian government seems truly dedicated to improving democracy.”

He said freedom of the press and freedom of speech are stronger in Ukraine than many other Eastern European countries. Since 2014, Ukrainians can protest without a permit and write criticisms of the government without fear of retribution.

“I think that’s the big thing about Ukraine,” he said. “... Whether you’re talking access to critical medical services for marginalized populations. Whether you’re talking about properly paying pension payments to retired people.”

He said it is sad to see the war unfold but he believes Ukrainians will rebuild their country, with international assistance.

He said it is important for Americans to understand the cultural underpinnings in any geopolitical situation.

“What are the drivers?” he said. “I think that’s what’s left out a lot in the U.S., is understanding the (context of) the region, not just from the Ukrainian side, but from the Russian side.”


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