Ukrainian staffers at the US Embassy in Kyiv are accusing the State Department of failing to keep its promises of support amid the devastating Russian invasion — even alleging they have been told to apply for refugee status in Europe rather than the US.
In a March 11 letter to State Department management, obtained by Foreign Policy magazine, leaders of the embassy’s local staff committee outlined the concerns of approximately 600 Ukrainian workers who say they were promised cash salary payments and other long-term financial assistance.
The US Embassy in Kyiv was closed in mid-February, 10 days before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion began. While the US ordered the evacuation of all American employees, the State Department held several town hall meetings with local embassy staff in which they answered questions and promised support.
In their letter, the Ukrainian employees noted that while they understand some of their questions may not have answers just yet, “the lack of consistency and ability to at least have one part of our lives secured, is really frightening.”
“Those of you in regular contact with [locally employed] Staff know first-hand what we are going through: our families are separated, many shelter in basements to stay alive, some fighting in the battlefields, others displaced, children are showing signs of stress from the trauma they have experienced and falling behind schooling and care, and none of us able to sleep through the night for 20 days,” they wrote.
“Amidst all this, receiving a coldhearted message from the [State Department] official about the need to apply for protected status or register as refugees to rely on assistance in European countries was yet another blow. Needless to say that the refugee status has certain downsides which obviously have not been researched by the speaker in advance.”
“It looks as if some officials have already given up on Ukraine,” the letter said at one point.
Adding to the uncertainty, US diplomats across the globe have experienced issues receiving their paychecks in recent months due to a new payroll system at the State Department.
A senior Department official told the Wall Street Journal that agency leadership regretted the snafu. When pressed about staff working on Ukraine, the official said the department is working to identify who is in most need and prioritize them for assistance wherever they are based.
“We don’t want to be creating any additional stress for colleagues in war zones and deeply regret if that’s happening,” the official told the outlet. “By the same token, [it] is equally traumatic for a passport examiner in middle America, who might be missing a paycheck and is living paycheck to paycheck, for them to miss a payment.”
A State Department spokesman told Foreign Policy this week that the Department is in “regular” contact with locally employed staff and is “exploring all legal options to support our team at this difficult time.”
Paid administrative leave has been implemented for “all staff unable to work or telework, regardless of their location,” said the rep, who added that “additional financial support to local staff, including the option of salary advances,” has also been provided.
If locally employed staff have concerns, they have been urged to use a “dedicated communications channel.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
While many local employees have fled Kyiv for western Ukraine and beyond, it is unclear whether Washington will support the evacuation of those remaining in Kyiv as Russian troops continue to bombard the city and surrounding areas.
“There are still legitimate reasons to ask why we did not help them evacuate Kyiv when we have dozens of abandoned embassy vehicles with full gas tanks in the courtyard of our embassy that’s padlocked in Kyiv,” said Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
“All the bureaucratic reasons for not doing that do not strike me as sufficient or appropriate,” he told Foreign Policy. “That’s done, it’s not possible to undo what is done, but it is possible to do the right thing going forward.”