Nearly 400 State Department staff have urged the department’s leadership to do more to help locally recruited Ukrainian embassy staff who were left behind when Russian troops invaded.
In an emailed letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Service officers and other staff criticized the department’s “lack of responsiveness” to requests for help from their Ukrainian colleagues.
The State Department sought to assure staff that the safety and well-being of local Ukrainians employed by the Embassy in Kyiv and the U.S. Agency for International Development was a top priority, including during an event town hall style on Wednesday. But staff in the letter said their concerns had not been addressed.
“Our Ukrainian colleagues deserve better,” the February 24 letter read. “Now is when they need our help the most. We are concerned that their needs have not been prioritized.
Foreign Policy previously reported on the letter.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called locally employed embassy staff “the heart of our embassies around the world,” and said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his leadership are regularly in contact with Kyiv staff employed locally.
“We are exploring all legal options available to us to enable us to support them in what is clearly a very difficult time for our local staff,” Mr Price said.
The Office of European and Eurasian Affairs is working on an official response to the letter, a US official said.
Following the chaotic summer withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which 13 U.S. soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing during evacuation, the State Department adopted a “zero risk” policy for the Ukrainian embassy staff as a Russian invasion became more imminent.
In July, Kabul personnel sent a classified telegram to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern over the slow pace of evacuations, particularly of locally hired personnel who may be targeted because of their service to the US government.
On Friday, Russian forces moved by air and land to attack kyiv and the capital’s defenders dug in positions along its wooded edge and deployed for urban fighting inside the city center.
Non-essential US embassy staff and families of diplomats were ordered out of Ukraine last month, and this month the embassy itself was closed and all US diplomats received ordered to leave kyiv for the city of Lviv near the Polish border. Currently, no US diplomats operate from Ukraine.
“The prevailing feeling among local staff is that they have been ignored and left to fend for themselves,” the letter reads. The signatories called on the State Department to show “flexibility and empathy wherever possible, and to provide life-saving assistance.”
A US official said the official view in Washington was that while locally recruited personnel in Ukraine served the United States loyally and deserved help, their service at the US Embassy was not directly life-threatening .