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.

KYIV, Ukraine — The Office of the President of Ukraine sits behind a phalanx of checkpoints where guards stand at post behind sandbag fortresses with cement and steel barriers, protecting a multi-block area that appears to have been a vibrant upper-class neighborhood before the war.

Deeper in, tighter security protects Russia’s most-wanted target, the man who from Day 1 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine refused to leave, organized resistance and galvanized world support in the name of sovereignty and freedom.

“Welcome,” says President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, nodding as he extends his hand to greet each guest into this boardroom of pearl blue upholstered chairs that match the length-of-room board table. In simpler times, this could be a beautifully set dining room table in an estate. But today a microphone sits at each place with a simple pen and pad of paper.

Today it is a war room.

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First to be greeted is Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, who has led a 30-person contingent in Ukraine that built momentum through the week as the delegation’s sincerity became more and more apparent — and practical — to government officials. Meetings with 10 ministers or their deputies highlighted Utah’s unique ability to build businesses, provide humanitarian aid and, in perhaps the clearest statement of support by Adams, do what is needed to help Ukraine win the war.

Second into the room was Jonathan Freedman, the honorary consul of Ukraine based in Salt Lake City and a longtime entrepreneur now also involved in humanitarian efforts on behalf of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy meets with the Utah delegation Saturday May 6, 2023 in Kyiv. | Office of the President of Ukraine

Miles Hansen, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, was followed by Owen Fuller, CEO of Marq with deep connections into Utah’s tech world. The contingent here totaled eight, including the Deseret News, which has followed and participated in the delegation’s work.

“Our objective with this trip was to generate momentum for Utah businesses, humanitarian organizations and policy leaders as they lean into their support for the Ukrainian people. We’ve accomplished that objective and so much more. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves to drive concrete action that makes good on our commitment to help Ukraine win this unprovoked war of aggression,” Hansen said.

The 80-minute discussion with Zelenskyy capped a remarkable week in Ukraine, including a high-level meeting with Rostyslav Shurma, deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, that preceded the meeting with Zelenskyy. The 39-year-old former business executive has an impressive background in economics and entrepreneurship that was put to use in the steel business, where he rose to lead 30,000 employees as the CEO of Zaporizhstal, Ukraine’s fourth-largest steelmaker.

Zelenskyy convinced him to join his team with a focus on economic concerns both current and in preparation for a prosperous post-war economy. In a meeting Thursday, he told members of the Utah delegation that the country is seeking partnerships, not handouts.

Utah can make specific proposals — business to business or sector to sector — in energy, technology, agriculture, new technologies (including military technology), and in the government sector, where privatization provides opportunity for partnership. The goal is to be mutually beneficial for Ukraine and Utah.

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Those themes were reiterated in Saturday’s meeting with the president.

“I would like to thank you on behalf of the Ukrainian people, because our society, we all feel and rely on your support — the support of the United States from the very beginning of the full-scale war, from the very beginning of the Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy said.

Those remarks opened the meeting and came following trips to Finland and the Netherlands earlier in the week. Zelenskyy is, at the moment, the leader everyone wants to meet with in Europe.

Ground rules for the delegation meant no cellphones in the room and the greeting statements were the only portion allowed to be quoted directly. But the substance of the meeting, which echoed many of the conversations had during the week with his ministers, could be explored.

The message to the Utah delegation was this: Don’t wait! There is great urgency to assist as Ukraine prepares for a much-anticipated counteroffensive.

Utah is first in the door from the 50 states, but countries are also coming to support Ukraine in its effort to bolster all aspects of its economy.

Fuller, CEO of Marq, explained Utah’s unique ecosystem for developing successful tech businesses. Fuller also brought that message to the IT Ukraine Association this week, which has done well to highlight IT experts and now is also looking for product — companies that can develop and grow here and perhaps with partners in Utah.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams speaks with Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy, not pictured, in Kyiv Saturday May 6, 2023. | Office of the President of Ukraine

“We are looking for the private partners for every sub segment,” said Shurma, who met with the delegation Thursday and also took part in Saturday’s meeting with the president.

Fuller noted during the week there are 8,200 technology companies in Utah, with technology making up about 11.5 percent of the state’s economy.

Zelenskyy and his team wore the now-familiar shirts associated with the war, in his case a black shirt with the trident symbol. The meeting focused on opportunities for Utah to help, particularly in the area of energy technologies and in agriculture security. Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe and its grain exports and agriculture industry have been interrupted.

“Everywhere I’ve gone in Ukraine this week I’ve heard people express their deep appreciation for Utah and America,” Adams said, following the meeting with Zelenskyy.

“It makes me very proud to be both a Utahn and an American,” Adams said. “But I’ve also been impressed with the spirit of the people of Ukraine, their commitment and resolve to remain free. But this war is more than a war about freedom. It’s a war about good and evil. Women and children have been indiscriminately killed. Children have been kidnapped and taken away from their parents. We will always stand for good over evil.”

The destruction to families caused by the war highlighted the need for housing, bringing into focus the work of Svitlana Miller and the organization she founded, To Ukraine With Love. A native of Ukraine now living in Idaho with extensive ties to Utah, she was able to directly address Zelenskyy as part of the delegation. This week her group turned over keys for seven new houses to area residents who had their homes destroyed in the invasion. The total will be at 106 by next week.

Mykhailo Fedorov, 32, the deputy prime minister for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology Development and the minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, displayed the country’s impressive app, DIIA, with a goal of eliminating bureaucracy in all aspects of government-public interaction — from driver licenses to taxes and eventually voting.

He accepted an invitation by Fuller to attend the September Silicon Slopes Summit to further connect Ukrainian business and technology opportunities with Utah.

Sen. Mike Lee, the senior senator from Utah, helped facilitate the delegation’s visit with Ukraine’s president. In an interview with the Deseret News, conducted by phone as the delegation left Kyiv by bus, Lee clarified his position on the war in Ukraine.

“Vladimir Putin is a bad man. ... And I want Ukraine to win this conflict,” he said. He noted the heavy price tag for U.S. support for Ukraine was $113 billion alone last year. By comparison, Russia’s budget was $65 billion, he said.

“The more aid we provide the closer we are to being embroiled directly in war. It requires caution and I’m not seeing that caution,” he said. He then noted, “It would be easier for me to consider additional funding if America’s European allies offered up a corresponding sum. And they haven’t.”

Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy stands arm and arm with Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and the Utah delegation in Kyiv Saturday May 6, 2023.
Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy stands arm and arm with Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and the Utah delegation in Kyiv Saturday May 6, 2023. | Office of the President of Ukraine

“I appreciate our senior senator, Mike Lee, for arranging our meeting with President Zelenskyy,” said Freedman. “The president expressed sincere gratitude to Utahns for opening their homes and communities to refugees, for their generous offers of humanitarian aid, and for standing with Ukraine as they fight against this illegal and unprovoked invasion.”

Among the ministries engaging with the delegation this week were: Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Restoration and Infrastructure, Ministry of Strategic Industries, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Agriculture.

The Saturday meeting with the Ukrainian president prompted those of the delegation attending to extend their stay in Kyiv by a day. Then it was a 10-hour sprint by bus to Warsaw and flights back to the U.S.