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Clinton Lauds Kiev for ‘Taking the Hard Road’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton concluded a five-day visit to Russia and Ukraine on Friday by urging Ukrainians to be patient, despite the pains they suffer as their country undergoes its economic transformation.

Addressing a throng on the grounds of Shevchenko State University, the President--who also made a brief, emotional stop at the infamous Babi Yar massacre site--endorsed the harsh economic measures taken by Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma to win $4 billion in Western economic aid.

“I know the times are difficult now, and I commend you for taking the hard road, for putting the needs of your future and your nation above immediate personal concerns,” Clinton told the surging crowd. “You and your children will reap the harvest of sacrifice.”

The average wage in Ukraine is $30 a month, and monthly inflation has run as high as 70% in the past year. The government recently announced a program of natural gas rationing to preserve supplies for next winter.

Clinton sought to reassure a nation that has suffered from high expectations and dashed hopes since gaining independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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“In the pursuit of peace and prosperity, you have been well-served by President Kuchma and his government’s bold and farsighted leadership,” he said. “You should know this: As you build your future, the United States will stand with you.”

He closed his remarks with “Slava Ukrainiy"--"Glory to Ukraine.”

The university speech ended a trip marked by bitter exchanges with opponents in Washington over Clinton’s one-day summit with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin; many Republicans in Congress are calling the visit a failure and a fool’s errand.

Administration officials continued to defend the President’s performance in Moscow, although in less than ringing terms.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, summing up the week’s events, said Friday that “the President set out with fairly limited objectives, and he is satisfied that those objectives have been met.”

He defined the objectives as cementing a warm relationship with Ukraine and advancing U.S. security interests in discussions with Yeltsin.

He said the Moscow summit made progress on issues of importance to Washington, including a pledge by Russia to work with the Western alliance on the future shape of Europe.

To those critics in Congress and elsewhere who said that Clinton should not have gone to Moscow without guarantees of concrete accomplishments beforehand, McCurry said progress on difficult issues often requires “face-to-face meetings at the highest level.”

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In Kiev, the crowd at the President’s speech included Olya Harchykov, 6, and her mother, Tatiana Alexandrivna Kovalenko, 44. Olya wore a special red velvet dress for the occasion of seeing “the President,” but she was not sure what country he was the leader of, the girl said.

Her mother, an engineer dressed in a dusty gray coat, said, “We like Clinton,” but not her own leader. “I don’t like Kuchma,” she said. “It’s too hard to live now.”

Kovalenko earns the equivalent of $13 a month, half of which pays utilities, with most of the rest going for her daughter’s day care. With only about $1.50 left, Kovalenko, like many other Ukrainians recently plunged into poverty, largely survives on the potatoes she grows in a tiny garden on the outskirts of Kiev.

Before leaving Kiev, Clinton also stopped briefly at a memorial to the victims of Babi Yar, the haunted ravine on the outskirts of the city where more than 100,000 people were killed by the Nazis.

Clinton recalled the day of horror in the fall of 1941 when thousands of Jews were herded from the city center to a barbed-wire enclosure where they were stripped before being lined up on the edge of the 180-foot-deep gulch and machine-gunned to death.

“In the quiet of this place, the victims of Babi Yar cry out to us still,” Clinton said, standing before a 10-foot menorah erected in 1991 to commemorate the massacre. “Never forget, they tell us, that humanity is capable of the worst, just as it is capable of the best.”

Clinton wore a royal blue yarmulke during the brief ceremony. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton wore a black dress; her head was covered with a print scarf.

“Never forget that the forces of darkness cannot be defeated with silence or indifference. Never forget that we are all Jews and Gypsies and Slavs. Never forget,” the President said. “May God bless this holy place.”

He placed a stone at the foot of the menorah in memory of the victims. Mrs. Clinton threw a clutch of white lilies into the ravine.

Times special correspondent Mary Mycio contributed to this report.


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