For President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, this week was a big one. After meeting with leaders from all over the world at the United Nations, by this Tuesday, Poroshenko was finally ready for his most intimidating assignment: giving a speech to the powerful players of Columbia University (namely one special Bwog staff writer).
The line for Poroshenko’s speech extended down the steps of Low Library, despite the rain growing steadily heavier as the minutes passed. The guards eventually had to turn away about thirty people hoping to snag a spot inside. Would be attendees were joined by anti-Poroshenko protesters who lined up outside the 116th gates.
Inside, President Bollinger gave a warm yet formal welcome to the President of Ukraine (as well as his First Lady), touching upon the social conflicts Ukraine has been through in recent years and crediting Poroshenko as the reason that Ukraine has “emerged from this turmoil.”
President Poroshenko began his address to the audience with exuberance, recalling frequent meetings with President Barack Obama over the past week. He claimed that he was very inspired by Obama as a “real fighter for peace, freedom, and democracy,” and that “this is no joke.” He continued, saying that he was proud “to be the first Ukrainian president at the World Leaders Forum.” The positive changes Ukraine has undergone over these last few years have also made Poroshenko proud, to the extent that, “even being a president in a state of war,” he had come to attend the different conferences and forums in the city.
There were several phrases that Poroshenko reiterated strongly throughout his speech– in seeming direct contradiction to the near-rioting protesters just outside.
“Peace, freedom, democracy.” Poroshenko inserted this phrase repeatedly while describing Ukraine’s improvements during his presidency, such as “in 15 months we built we built the most competent army,” despite the fact he admitted that “nobody trusts Ukraine” (His words, not ours).
Poroshenko then directed his attention towards the audience, appealing directly to the Columbia student body.
“You people can work for Ukraine. Come to me, and let’s create a team.”
This statement rendered huge applause from the audience, which led to a competitive Q & A session.
When asked “How would you like your presidency to be remembered,” Poroshenko maintained his cheerful outlook on the future.
“I want to be dreaming,” he said. Poroshenko continued, explaining that he wants the Ukraine to become a member of the European Union, and he claimed “I’m optimistic enough that my dream can come.”
On being asked how long he sees himself in this position of president, Poroshenko deflected giving a concrete answer, instead talking about how the “unique character of my country now is the new faces, new people.”
Poroshenko even giggled at some of the questions. One questioner asked how we were supposed to be able to protect the Ukraine “if we can’t even defeat ISIS in the middle east,” and after giving a chuckle, Poroshenko responded, “We have significant changes for the future. 86% of Ukrainians are ready to give their life to defend.”
There were still many attendees lined up to ask questions when Columbia Professor Andrew Cooley, the moderator for the night’s forum, cut the discussion short as time ran out.
Poroshenko ended on a (surprise!) optimistic note, stating that with regards to ending sovietization, Ukraine could “be successful and beautiful in a different sphere than before,” and could reiterated his unwavering support in both the US and Ukraine.
“We should take all our efforts, we should be united…and build up the new Ukraine.”