Editor’s note: Deseret News Executive Editor Doug Wilks, reporter Katie McKellar and photojournalist Scott Winterton are traveling with Utah’s trade and humanitarian delegation to Ukraine. This is the third in a series of reports.

U.S. EMBASSY, Kyiv, Ukraine — Hedgehogs, those heavy metal tripod-like spikes so familiar during World War II, line key streets and entrances to government buildings throughout Kyiv, placed near sandbag bunkers in this Eastern European capital now at war with Russia.

Despite advances in technology, including drone weaponry and sophisticated air defense systems, there is still a place for heavy impediments to troop advancement, such as those that occurred just on the outskirts of this city in the devastating attacks on Irpin and Bucha nearly 15 months ago when Russia crossed the border into Ukraine.

A delegation from Utah headed by State Senate President Stuart Adams — the first wartime delegation to Kyiv of any of the 50 states — met with U.S. Ambassador Bridget Brink prior to dozens of meetings with ministries focused on defense, trade, the economy, technology, energy and agriculture.

Air raids in Ukraine: In the bunker with Utah Senate President Stuart Adams
Inside Utah’s mission to help Ukraine rebuild, even as war rages on

Ambassador Brink had no trouble characterizing the now nearly 15-month war: “This is about good and evil and this is evil,” she said.

The Utah delegation is here to explore partnerships that will help build the economy, continue the extensive humanitarian effort provided by Utahns, and seek innovative ways to support Ukraine, both now and “when we win the war,” as Ukraine officials repeatedly said.

The week would feature some of the heaviest air activity in months near the capital city, requiring repeated trips to safe spaces underground. But warnings from embassy officials throughout the week about heightened hostilities made the Utah team well prepared as it met with both government officials and those in the private sector. It is likely the first of several trade missions to Ukraine with invitations for Ukrainian leaders to come to Utah to further explore business partnerships.

Brink is nearly one year into her posting as ambassador to Ukraine, named by President Joe Biden and sworn into office May 18, 2022, following a nearly three-year appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic. Her career includes extensive experience in prolonged conflict.

Following the meeting with the Utah delegation, she sat down with Deseret News Executive Editor Doug Wilks for this exclusive interview inside the heavily secured embassy in Kyiv. The conversation has been lightly edited for content and length.

Deseret News Executive Editor Doug Wilks poses a question to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink during a meeting with members of the Utah trade delegation.
Deseret News Executive Editor Doug Wilks poses a question to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink during a meeting with members of the Utah trade delegation at the embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Deseret News: Thank you ambassador for the delegation meeting and your time this evening. As we get underway can you discuss the current state of affairs in Ukraine?

Ambassador Brink: Well, first of all, thank you for being here. And thank you for making this trip. And with the delegation of business, NGO (nongovernmental organizations) and state representatives, we are really happy to welcome you here, because one of our top goals is to try to encourage direct foreign investment, even right now, now is the time to look at Ukraine, and to help Ukraine in its moment of need, but also in its recovery.

So just to your question of what is the situation right now, it’s been a year-plus in this war and Russia’s full-scale invasion. And the Ukrainians have done remarkably well, in terms of battlefield success. They have successfully resisted Russia’s effort to — and Putin’s effort to — take the capital. They have also successfully regained about half the territory that Russia originally took after the full scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022. They’re now preparing for another counter offensive, and to try to take back more and liberate more territory.

But whatever happens on the battlefield, our positioning with regard to Ukraine is to support their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, their ability to choose their own future. And that’s why we’re here. And my embassy team and I are working every single day, to help them on the battlefield, but also help them, importantly, on the economic front, and to help them keep their economy alive, as well as to help about 6 million displaced people that are in in Ukraine on the humanitarian front as well.

Inside Utah’s mission to help Ukraine rebuild, even as war rages on
Air raids in Ukraine: In the bunker with Utah Senate President Stuart Adams

DN: In our previous meeting you discussed five objectives or goals. Can you review for us what those are specifically?

AB: Yes of course. From the day of my arrival, which is now almost a year ago, and at the end of May last year, I articulated five goals, and we’ve been working relentlessly on those ever since.

The first is to help Ukraine prevail on the battlefield. And I mentioned, there has been success in that because of the bravery of the heroes of Ukraine who are fighting on the frontlines, but also because of the assistance that we and international partners have been able to give them to help them in that fight.

The second objective has been to help Ukraine make the reforms to realize their European aspirations, essentially to integrate into your Atlantic institutions, including the European Union. That is something that they continue to do and that we continue to support. It helps to create the country that Ukrainians want, and they will also become a stronger partner for us in many ways.

The third one is to help to ensure justice and accountability for war crimes and atrocities. The prosecutor general has announced that there are about 80,000 war crimes and atrocities that are being investigated at the moment. And what we and other partners have done is try to find ways that we can help both bear witness and save testimony and evidence of those atrocities.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink sits down to talk with the Deseret News and give some of her feelings about the war with Russia going on in the country following a meeting with members of the Utah trade delegation at the embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

DW: Are you chronicling those stories?

AB: We support NGOs that are doing that. There’s a wide effort, a global effort among many partners. But yes, we are supporting that as well as supporting efforts to ensure justice ultimately.

The fourth goal is to ensure oversight and accountability for a massive amount of U.S. taxpayer assistance. This is something that is a solemn responsibility for me and our embassy team. And so we are very focused on ensuring that the security assistance, the economic assistance and the humanitarian assistance are all appropriately accounted for.

And the last goal is to rebuild our embassy. We are still limited and our numbers were relatively small compared to the size of the embassy before it closed briefly for three months, last February, and we are bringing back our people. And we are also rebuilding our mission to be able to make it a first-class mission to help to train, (to be) a training ground and a place to help prepare the diplomats of the future.

DN: Can you clearly articulate America’s foreign policy as it relates to Ukraine?

AB: Yes. Fundamentally, we are here to try to stop (Vladimir) Putin from changing borders by force in Europe. We believe that to do so opens up a Pandora’s box of instability all over the world. And as the president has made very clear, our support is to help Ukraine prevail on the battlefield, to assure its sovereignty, and to make sure it can choose its own future. And this is primarily fundamentally why we are here.

DN: So we understand why it is so fundamentally important for Ukrainians. What is the case for America? Why are we here and why now?

AB: So the importance for America is that ... obviously it’s very important, existential for Ukraine to win this fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion. But if we were to allow borders to be changed by force, it potentially affects the whole security architecture of Europe, and sends a signal to other countries around the world that any state can change the borders, invade, take action against another state. That fundamentally makes the world more unstable. And for this reason, it’s very important that we ensure that this is a strategic defeat for Putin, as President Biden has said,

DN: You’ve been here for a year, appointed in May of last year. You also have great experience in Eastern Europe and other points, looking at protracted conflicts. So do you see differences with what’s going on here in Ukraine, between Ukraine and Russia, with what you’ve seen previously?

DW: I think it’s a continuation of Putin’s policy throughout the region. And I think the way Russia is waging this war, it’s obviously a land war here in Ukraine. But there are other aspects of this war and that includes a disinformation war that’s happening in Europe and around the world that Russia is behind.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink puts her hand on her chest as she talks about the atrocities from the war with Russia to the Deseret News following a meeting with members of the Utah trade delegation at the embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It’s also a war to try to starve or further exacerbate food-scarce countries by stopping Ukrainian grain, which feeds the world, from getting out of ports. It’s also an energy war to both cut off or make harder energy supplies to Europe. But also, the whole winter, we spent with 26 massive attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid, in an effort to try to take out the power, the heat and the light to millions of people. So it’s a war that has many different fronts and encompasses many more people, even outside of Ukraine.

DW: So what is the end game? How will this be resolved?

AB: I think Ukraine has to prevail, and we have to help it prevail, we and international partners. We have said all along, that this war will end when Russia leaves Ukraine. And the president has also made clear that President Zelenskyy will decide when that time comes.

DW: What can you say about the resiliency of the Ukrainians? Since we’ve been here, the resolve seems pretty phenomenal. So as you’ve lived here for this period of time, how would you characterize that resiliency?

AB: I think Ukrainians will fight until they prevail in this war. I do not think that Ukraine will give up or Ukrainians will give up.

DW: Is there anything that surprised you since your posting here for the past year?

AB: I don’t think it surprised me, because I had heard that Ukraine was incredibly resilient, and was going to fight to the very end. And that is exactly what I’ve seen. Not a surprise, but it validated what I had heard. And I see this and I’m sure you will see this too while you’re here.

DW: So if you’re sitting around a dinner table and your friends, your associates ask you what can I do to help, what do you say to them?

AB: I would say on the American side, continuing to support Ukraine by supporting our government’s efforts in terms of helping Ukraine prevail in this existential fight for them but also strategically important fight for the United States and for Europe and for democracies around the world. There are also plenty of ways that people want to individually support plenty of organizations that they can donate to or contribute to in some fashion. So there are many ways but I would say fundamentally, the support to U.S. government efforts and individual support is very helpful. We appreciate it.

DW: Can I ask a question about the loss of children, children from Ukraine being taken to Russia? Is there any U.S. effort to return those children? What is the embassy’s involvement as it relates to returning the children that have been taken?

AB: Yes, thank you. This is one of the very disturbing parts of the war and the way that Russia is waging the war. It’s not just a conventional war — military against military. In multiple ways Russia is waging this war in a manner which we do not want to see repeated anywhere in the world. So by sending over 1,200 missiles and drones to the energy grid over the winter, Russia was actually trying to harm and even kill men, women and children sleeping in their beds at night, which is not an acceptable form of war in any fashion by conducting mass executions, which have happened, and we have evidence to see this in Bucha. ... We don’t have access to Mariupol and other places, but by witness testimony, and as the secretary of state and Vice President (Kamala) Harris have announced these are crimes against humanity, war crimes and atrocities that are crimes against humanity. That is a very significant designation.

With regard to these so-called filtration camps, which are reminiscent of World War II, where people including children are taken and filtered and sent to Russia, and children taken away from their parents. This is an absolutely horrific aspect of any kind of conflict that should not be made normal or accepted. There’s sexual violence on a level that we haven’t seen in any recent history. So with regard to all of these areas, we are doing everything we can as a government to work with international and other NGOs to be supportive in this effort to either identify people and bring them back. And so we will continue to do as the U.S. government anything possible that we can, in all of these areas,

DW: I heard from one person who said that they feel like America is doing enough so that Ukraine doesn’t lose the war, but not enough to allow Ukraine to win the war. What would you say to that kind of comment?

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink places her hands down on the table as she speaks at a meeting with members of the Utah trade delegation at the embassy in Kyiv. Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. She also sat down independently for a visit with the Deseret News. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

AB: I mean, I would say that we are working. And all of us, myself included, my team, across the interagency in Washington, are working absolutely night and day, in close, close partnership with the Ukrainians to try to help them prevail, to try to help them win. That is a win for us. And we want to do everything possible. And we are and we will.

So I wouldn’t characterize it in that way. And I think the amount of security assistance that we have been able to give and the speed at which we’ve been able to give it as well as our convening power to galvanize others, including Secretary (of State Lloyd) Austin, having led the Ramstein Group as it’s called with 53 other countries to try to get as much to Ukraine as possible, as fast as possible, I think counters that statement.

View Comments

DW: Can Ukrainians and Russians still love each other?

AB: I mean, I think if there’s respect for the fact that Ukraine is its own nation, with its own culture, and its history, and its own territory, yes, I think the answer is yes. I think if it’s the vision of Putin, which does not recognize any of that, I don’t know if the answer can be yes.

DW: Typically, I ask what keeps you awake at night, but I want to end on a different note. What gives you cause for optimism?

AB: Oh, the Ukrainians 100%. I think Ukrainians are some of the most determined creative, resolute people I have ever met. And you see this on the battlefield, and you see it in every way. And in your meetings, over the next day or so, you will see it as well. I think that once Ukraine comes out of this war, with our support, it will be a leader in Europe. Its future is quite amazing. When you meet some of these government and other leaders you are going to it doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to see how, you know, Ukraine goes from a country wanting entry into Europe to actually being one of the countries leading Europe, in terms of IT, digital transformation of the economy, in terms of productivity, in terms of production of different types of things, even perhaps weapons and other things. I mean, it is a country of potential, and anyone coming here, I think you can see it and you can feel it. And that’s why they’ve done so well. And that’s why they’re going to prevail.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.