Paul Grod takes over helm of Ukrainian World Congress

Kyiv Post - - National - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]

After re­turn­ing from a Nov. 27 meet­ing with Ukrainian Prime Min­is­ter Volodymyr Groys­man, Paul Grod tried to make his way through the lobby of the Pres­i­dent Ho­tel.

But he kept get­ting stopped by well-wish­ers. They con­grat­u­lated him on his un­con­tested elec­tion to a four-year term as the pres­i­dent of the Ukrainian World Congress, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that strives to rep­re­sent 20 mil­lion Ukraini­ans liv­ing out­side Ukraine. It held its 11th congress at the Kyiv ho­tel. Grod suc­ceeds Eu­gene Czolij, who served 10 years.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post, Grod also fielded tele­phone calls from Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine head Va­syl Hryt­sak and Ukrainian Am­bas­sador to the United States Va­leriy Chaly. He had just seen Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko on Nov. 25. He re­turned home to Toronto on Nov. 29.

Such at­ten­tion is be­fit­ting one of the world's most rec­og­nized lead­ers of the Ukrainian di­as­pora, a mar­ried fa­ther of four chil­dren whose par­ents em­i­grated from Ukraine to Canada.

Strong di­as­pora

In 2001, Grod was elected vice pres­i­dent of the Ukrainian Cana­dian Congress, in a na­tion that is home to 1.4 mil­lion Ukrainian-Cana­di­ans. He be­came pres­i­dent in 2010 as well as vice pres­i­dent of the Ukrainian World Congress dur­ing the IX of­fi­cial meet­ing. He is founder and CEO of Ro­dan En­ergy So­lu­tions, a Cana­dian com­pany with 100 em­ploy­ees that spe­cial­izes in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

The 42 mil­lion Ukraini­ans still liv­ing in Ukraine rely on the di­as­pora abroad to help the home­land re­main a strong and in­de­pen­dent na­tion, a sta­tus un­der at­tack by Rus­sia's war since 2014.

In 2017, Ukraini­ans work­ing or liv­ing abroad sent around $9 bil­lion to their home coun­try, about 7 per­cent of the econ­omy.

Grod says all Ukraini­ans glob­ally — up to 65 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in­side and out­side of Ukraine — need to unite for the long strug­gle ahead.

"We have been fac­ing Rus­sia ag­gres­sion for 300 years. Why do we think it's go­ing to go away?" Grod told the Kyiv Post. "One of the big­gest mis­takes we made as a di­as­pora was, when Ukraine be­came in­de­pen­dent in 1991, we said: 'Hey let's cel­e­brate, all is good.' Even Ukraini­ans couldn't be­lieve how the Rus­sians could be our en­e­mies. That's be­come very clear. With the at­ti­tude of Rus­sia to­wards Ukraine, we be­lieve this will be a pro­tracted ag­gres­sion. Whether it's mil­i­tary, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal or cul­ture, it will con­tinue, po­ten­tially for decades."

He said Ukraini­ans abroad must build strong self-help in­sti­tu­tions — from cra­dle to grave — and stay en­gaged in the na­tions where they are liv­ing and with Ukraine.

Fight­ing cyn­i­cism

That en­gage­ment in­cludes "not fall­ing prey to the cyn­i­cism that many are fall­ing prey to be­cause of the read­ing of the Ukrainian me­dia and 'every­thing is bad, every­thing is ter­ri­ble here,’" Grod said. "I'm not an apol­o­gist for the gov­ern­ment or Petro Poroshenko, but a pos­i­tive image of Ukraine is very im­por­tant. One of Rus­sia's strongest weapons is cre­at­ing that cyn­i­cism."

But the next time he sees Poroshenko, he said that he would ques­tion the wis­dom of im­pos­ing mar­tial law in re­sponse to Rus­sia's at­tacks on three Ukrainian navy ves­sels on Nov. 25.

"I hate the phrase," he said of mar­tial law. "Who­ever came up with that, what were they think­ing? Of course they're go­ing to cre­ate alarm bells and so why would they call it mar­tial law?"

Rus­sia's war and the at­tacks at sea put greater re­spon­si­bil­ity on all Ukraini­ans to set the record straight with the news me­dia, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and oth­ers who in­flu­ence pub­lic opin­ion.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin "is dis­cour­ag­ing for­eign in­vestors," Grod said. "Putin is do­ing a good job of try­ing to un­der­mine Ukraine's econ­omy."

Fear­ing lost iden­tity

An­other chal­lenge for Ukraini­ans is the ex­o­dus of peo­ple from the home­land who find jobs in other na­tions. The abil­ity to seek new op­por­tu­ni­ties in­creased in 2017 with visa-free travel for short-term stays to most of Europe. Grod is not so much alarmed by Ukraini­ans leav­ing Ukraine as he is by his fears that and more of the new di­as­pora are mov­ing to places with no Ukrainian in­sti­tu­tions — schools, credit unions, com­mu­nity cen­ters, churches and so forth to keep alive his­tory, cul­ture, and lan­guage. In many cities with size­able Ukrainian com­mu­ni­ties, these in­sti­tu­tions have pro­moted the Ukrainian iden­tity for gen­er­a­tions. In Soviet times, Ukraini­ans abroad kept alive the dream of an in­de­pen­dent Ukraine.

"One of the big­gest chal­lenges Ukraine faces is not only a huge wave of im­mi­gra­tion leav­ing Ukraine, but what is hap­pen­ing to those im­mi­grants when they leave. We are wit­ness­ing a dis­as­trous level of as­sim­i­la­tion among this wave of Ukraini­ans who are leav­ing. I'm just very afraid we are go­ing to lose a sig­nif­i­cant Ukrainian pop­u­la­tion in terms of global con­sci­en­tious­ness. So we need to act on that. That's why build­ing those in­sti­tu­tions in those coun­tries is go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant."

Grod said that es­tab­lished Ukrainian com­mu­ni­ties in dif­fer­ent na­tions need to reach out to new im­mi­grants and help them ad­just to their new lives with fi­nan­cial and other as­sis­tance.

Be­sides elect­ing Grod, the Ukrainian World Congress also moved to de­cen­tral­ize its op­er­a­tions with six re­gional vice pres­i­dents and six ad­min­is­tra­tive vice pres­i­dents. Al­to­gether, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has net­works in 61 coun­tries.

‘High-wa­ter mark’

Grod says that the or­ga­ni­za­tion is at its "all-time, high-wa­ter mark" in re­la­tions with the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment, elected of­fi­cials and mem­bers of po­lit­i­cal par­ties. "Where we lack is in gen­eral knowl­edge among Ukraini­ans about who we are as an or­ga­ni­za­tion and who we are as a peo­ple," he said.

That's a big chal­lenge, but no less a hur­dle than get­ting the far-flung di­as­pora to be more united and ef­fec­tive.

He said there are proven paths to suc­cess. Wher­ever a Ukrainian lives and no mat­ter how many gen­er­a­tions ago his or her fam­ily left Ukraine, cul­tural is­sues to pre­serve a strong Ukrainian iden­tity are uni­fiers.

"We have a huge di­as­pora, strong, smart, so­phis­ti­cated, worldly," he said. "They want to help. They want to get in­volved. They just need an out­let. We're go­ing to cre­ate that out­let with the Ukrainian World Congress."

The congress won't en­dorse any can­di­dates for the March 31 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Ukraine.

"We're ab­so­lutely non-par­ti­san," Grod said. "We would never en­dorse any po­lit­i­cal party, whether it's in Ukraine or glob­ally. We will, how­ever, be­cause we rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of the Ukrainian di­as­pora, be ask­ing the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to out­line their poli­cies and pri­or­i­ties to us. That has worked well for us in other coun­tries and al­lowed us to hold the gov­ern­ing party's feet to the fire based on what they com­mit­ted to us in the pre-elec­tion process. We do also plan on send­ing an elec­tion ob­ser­va­tion mis­sion to Ukraine."

Neu­tral­ity does not stop the or­ga­ni­za­tion from speak­ing out against the gov­ern­ment "if we think they are mak­ing mis­steps" or giv­ing "credit where credit is due." The or­ga­ni­za­tion strives to be "the moral com­pass for the Ukrainian peo­ple."

Who is Paul Grod?

Like many oth­ers, Grod stepped up his ac­tivism be­cause of the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion that drove Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych from power on Feb 22, 2014.

"Be­ing Ukrainian de­fines me. it's some­thing I care about pas­sion­ately. When I look at what our peo­ple and par­ents and fore­fa­thers went through, it's time we step up to make sure that Ukraine re­claims its right to have an in­de­pen­dent coun­try. It's an obli­ga­tion be­cause of how many peo­ple have sac­ri­ficed their lives be­cause they're Ukrainian," Grod said. "I love be­ing Ukrainian. I love be­ing Ukrainian-Cana­dian. We can be pa­tri­ots of Ukraine and pa­tri­ots of Canada and one does not con­flict with the other."

Paul Grod, a Ukrainian-Cana­dian who is the new pres­i­dent of the Ukrainian World Congress, speaks at a Nov. 28 press con­fer­ence in Kyiv. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has mem­bers in 61 na­tions. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

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