The U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine has resumed operations three months after Russia waged war in the country.
The State Department said last month that American diplomats would be starting to return to the country ahead of the embassy in Kyiv itself reopening. The war is still ongoing, which has led to thousands of civilian and soldier deaths so far.
“We are officially resuming operations at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Wednesday. “The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the embassy once again.”
Additional safety measures were put in place to protect personnel who are returning to Kyiv, said the secretary. He did not go into detail on these measures.
Government Executive asked the State Department on Thursday if the embassy will be back to normal staffing levels between direct U.S. employees and local hires and if not, what the situation was.
“Embassy operations will remain limited for the time being,” said a department spokesperson. “The team will continue to engage with the Ukrainian government, civil society, diplomatic and other partners in Ukraine as part of our efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression.” The spokesperson added that the “level 4 do not travel” advisory to Ukraine for American citizens is still intact due to the ongoing risks.
Russia’s war continues to destroy Ukraine and inflict death, said Blinken, but “with strength of purpose, we reaffirm our commitment to the people and government of Ukraine, and we look forward to carrying out our mission from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
“[The American Foreign Service Association] was gratified to see the U.S. flag raised again over our embassy in Kyiv yesterday,” said Eric Rubin, association president who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria. “Our Foreign Service members are ready to get to work on the ground in Ukraine at this critical time, eventually joining our locally employed staff, our family member employees and our colleagues from other agencies.”
The association “salutes the administration’s decision and will do everything it can to help to support the reestablishment of our diplomatic presence in Ukraine at this critical time,” he added.
In late January, the State Department authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. employees from Ukraine as well as ordered the departure of family members of U.S. employees at the embassy in Kyiv. On Feb. 11, the department further reduced the number of staff to only those performing essential services and directed the rest to leave immediately.
Then on Feb. 14, Blinken announced that the department was temporarily relocating the embassy in Kyiv to Lviv (which is in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland) due to Russia’s increased buildup of forces. On February 21, U.S. embassy staff in Ukraine were moved out of the country. The American Foreign Service Association worked to provide financial assistance for embassy employees and their families who were relocated from Ukraine as well as Belarus.
“My first responsibility in this job as secretary is to look out for the well-being of the men and women of the State Department,” Blinken told late night show host Stephen Colbert in an interview on Wednesday night. Although personnel at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv “didn’t want to go,” when the attack from Russia was coming, “we had to make a really hard decision to suspend our operations and to get folks out of harm’s way.”