U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Office Partners with Ukrainian Government to Keep Our Nations Safe
Joanna Wintrol, the head of U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Defense Threat Reduction Office, works closely with Ukrainian partners to counter threats affecting the United States, Ukraine, and other nations. As her assignment at U.S. Embassy Kyiv comes to a close, Joanna shared her thoughts about her experience working in Ukraine.
Many people have heard of the U.S. Department of Defense, but the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency is perhaps less familiar. What does your organization do?
DTRA focuses on countering threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We focus on the full range of WMD threats — chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives. The organization also works to counter “improvised threats,” such as improvised explosive devices.
Countering these complicated threats effectively requires teamwork. That’s why DTRA officials like me work overseas at U.S. Embassies — to build strong partnerships with partners and allies to combat these threats and to exchange best practices and innovations in the fight against these threats.
What Ukrainian organizations have you collaborated with during your time here?
I’ve been working in Ukraine for the past five years, and throughout that time my team has been working closely with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defense, National Police, Security Service of Ukraine, State Border Guard Service, State Service of Ukraine for Food Safety and Consumer Protection, the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences, and others. As you can see from this long list — we work quite closely with the Ukrainian authorities!
As one example, my team has arranged hands-on trainings for the National Police, Security Service of Ukraine and the State Border Guard Service to strengthen our cooperation on the topic of “dual use” items. These are items that have a legitimate purpose, but if they fall into the hands of a bad actor, they could be used to create a dangerous weapon.
Our team also is working with Ukrainian experts — through training, facilities renovations, and provision of supplies — to enhance their capabilities to respond to nuclear incidents, secure information and communication mechanisms, and prevent illegal trafficking of nuclear materials outside of regulatory control.
What have been some of the biggest challenges during your time in Ukraine?
It’s been disappointing to see false allegations in recent months from some media outlets and commentators in Ukraine about our Biological Threat Reduction Program.
This program was created after the collapse of the Soviet Union to assist former Soviet states to secure and eliminate biological weapons and pathogens of concern that were collected and developed by the Soviet Union.
We work with the Ukrainian Government to consolidate and secure dangerous pathogens and toxins that exist in Ukrainian government facilities. And we also fund peaceful research and vaccine development by Ukrainian scientists.
For over a decade, Russia has disseminated false information about this program, aiming to drive a wedge between the United States and Ukraine.
In reality, this is a joint program between our two nations, based in legal agreements. And all of the participating laboratories and institutions are controlled and managed by the Ukrainian government. No U.S. scientists work in these labs.
What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of during your time in Ukraine?
My team mobilized quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic to support to our Ukrainian partners. We provided four mobile laboratories to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to help respond to the pandemic, and provided experts to help the Public Health Center analyze the rapidly changing situation regarding the virus. We’ve also been glad to see our Ukrainian partners using personal protective equipment provided by DTRA to stay safe while carrying out their duties during the pandemic.
What will you miss about Ukraine?
It’s hard to give a short answer to this question! First of all, I’ll miss the Ukrainian partners with whom I’ve developed friendships and strong professional relationships over the years. Their dedication and professionalism in working to keep Ukraine safe has been inspiring. On a personal note, I’ll miss all the great restaurants, walking around Kyiv looking at the beautiful and eclectic buildings, and relaxing on one of the many city beaches. I’ll even miss the famous Ukraine winters! Although my tour here is coming to a close, I hope to have an opportunity to return to Ukraine soon, and I will never forget my stay here. Every time I look at my adopted Ukrainian street dog I will remember Kyiv and all the great times I have had.