New Ukrainian Leaders Honored at NDI Democracy Dinner

Speaking at NDI’s annual Democracy Award dinner last night, Vice President Joe Biden praised three young Ukrainian activists for their steadfast commitment to democracy in the face of adversity.

The three -- Hanna Hopko, Serhiy Leshchenko and Oleksandr Solontay -- were honored with the Institute’s Democracy Award for their efforts to further the cause of democracy in Ukraine.   Each exemplified the theme of the dinner, “From Protest to Politics.”  

They were active participants in the “Euromaidan” demonstrations that led to the fall of Ukraine’s autocratic government earlier this year, and are now active in the country’s political arena. Two of the honorees -- Hopko and Leshchenko -- were elected to parliament on political party lists in October, and Hopko is now the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada.  

These people have braved snipers’ bullets and freezing cold to win for themselves a chance to fundamentally alter their country for the better,” Vice President Biden said.  

“Although what they’ll face now is not snipers on top of a building. What they’ll face now in a sense is harder -- undoing 24 years of the vestiges of corruption in a system that was supposedly democratic.  Ukraine is fortunate to have some of the bravest, most patriotic men and women I’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing because there’s so much for them to do,” he said.

Watch videos from the event:

NDI Chairman Secretary Madeleine Albright, who presented the awards, said, “Tonight’s honorees were among those leading the calls for change – as activists, journalists and community organizers. In the past year, each of them did something important – and courageous – in moving from the protest camps to the campaign trail.”

“Being a civic activist for 14 years I did not want to go into politics,” said Hopko. “But at some point I realized that I had to take responsibility for my daughter’s future into my own hands. It was not enough to complain from the sidelines.”

Solontay said, “My commitment now is to make sure that those of us in civil society, politics, the media and government make defending this dignity our highest priority.”

“We have a rare second chance to create a democratic and independent country,” Leshchenko said. “I have an obligation to myself and to those who died on the Maidan -- to use my own hands to try to solve these problems.”

Prior to last year’s demonstrations, each of the awardees had achieved prominence in Ukrainian civil society. Hopko, who has a Ph.D. in social communications, was a well-known public health activist who helped launch  the Reanimation Package of Reforms, an innovative effort to promote democratic legislation. She was recently named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Global Thinkers of 2014. Leshchenko was an investigative journalist and deputy editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda, and Oleksandr Solontay is a political analyst at Kyiv’s Institute of Political Education.

NDI has supported Ukrainians’ aspirations for a more democratic future for almost 25 years.  Its programs have helped Ukrainian partners develop responsive political parties, advance civil society engagement in politics, promote transparent and accountable legislatures, bring women into political leadership and contribute to the integrity of elections.

NDI’s Democracy Award honors individuals and organizations that have exhibited a sustained commitment to democracy and human rights, and have demonstrated leadership, integrity and courage in their dedication to democratic values and practices.

Published December 10, 2014

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