State Dept. Warns Against Ukraine Travel, Promotes Ukraine Travel

Mixed messages on danger cause confusion

USEmbassyKyiv YouTube
March 28, 2014

Just three days after the State Department issued a travel warning for Ukraine, it began promoting a campaign urging Americans to visit the country, prompting confusion and concern from some foreign policy observers.

The State Department issued a Ukraine travel warning on March 21 warning "U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine and to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula and eastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Lugansk due to the presence of Russian military forces in the Crimean Peninsula, and in Russia near the Ukrainian border."

Three days after that warning was issued the State Department’s official Twitter feed disseminated an official video promoting travel to Ukraine and arguing that all is safe for tourists.

"Disinformation: Kyiv is a burned out battle ground filled with rampaging lawless groups," wrote a caption on the video, which was posted by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. "Fact: The effects of the Maidan confrontation are extremely localized, relegated to three or four streets in the center of the city."

The video struck some foreign policy observers as confusing given the sharp contrast between the two messages.

State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf told the Free Beacon that the video is an effort to combat "Kremlin propaganda" that aims to distort the situation in Ukraine and mislead the international community.

"It is meant as a vivid counterpoint to the lies and disinformation being spewed forth by Moscow," Harf told the Free Beacon when asked about the film.

The travel warning and video should be viewed separately, she said.

"The video is not a travel ad—it is a rebuttal to Kremlin propaganda. It was meant to counter Russian claims that Kyiv and Ukraine is somehow in the throes of lawless, nationalist thugs looking to persecute Russian-speaking minorities," Harf said. "The video simply shows a nice, calm spring day in Kyiv, where Ukrainians of all walks of life are going about their business."

The Ukraine travel warning was issued to inform U.S. citizens about the dangers of traveling to an area rife with unrest.

"As for the Travel Warning, we have very specific criteria for when we issue a Travel Warning, and we issue them not infrequently in a number of countries to ensure our citizens have all the information they need," Harf said. "It is the State Department’s duty to do everything we can to inform and protect U.S. citizens traveling and living abroad."

State cautioned in its travel advisory that "the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is constrained in its ability to provide assistance to U.S. citizens visiting or residing in the Crimean Peninsula."

"The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Ukraine to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in the Crimean Peninsula and the eastern regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkiv," it added.

The four-minute video posted by State highlighting the calm in Kyiv features interviews with Ukrainians who are going about their daily routines.

"We decided to walk around the city and here is what we saw: People running around doing errands, strolling, relaxing, taking photographs, and even looking for new places to explore in Kyiv."

The images are a stark contrast to the pictures of massing military forces in the Crimea region that have been broadcast across the United States and elsewhere.

"Somehow this does not look like chaos, violence, or anything like it," states an announcer in the video as pictures of Ukrainians smiling and frolicking flash across the screen.

"With the exception of some store fronts on Hrushevskovo where clashes were most intense and a burned trade union building (a fire started by [former Ukranian President Viktor] Yanukovych-aligned security forces) full-glass storefronts of luxury stores and restaurants are completely unharmed, even in the center of the Maidan," read the video’s caption. "Kyiv otherwise is totally intact and functioning with people strolling, shopping, and traffic police working in plain sight."