Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at a repatriation ceremony at the Ukrainian Embassy to the United States alongside President Volodymyr Zelensky. These remarks are presented as prepared for delivery.
Our common understanding and appreciation of history is often shaped by the objects and artifacts that remain.
The Department of Homeland Security’s history – and an important chapter in our nation’s history – can be told in a twisted piece of metal from the wreckage of the World Trade Center on 9/11. That is why such a piece is the first thing anyone who enters our Headquarters sees.
Tangible pieces of history pass down a story to all who consider them – a story that unites us, and bonds us, and can instill a sense of resolve and often pride in us.
The United States knows this; Ukraine knows this. Russia knows this, too – and they know the uniquely devastating, demoralizing, divisive impact of separating a culture from its tangible history.
That is why, when President Biden told President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people they have America’s full support against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression, it entailed more than military and intelligence support. It entailed more than emergency food aid and budget lifelines; more than deterring cyberattacks; more than the support the Department of Homeland Security has given to facilitate the safe transfer of people and goods across the Ukrainian border.
Full support also means helping to safeguard Ukraine’s independent identity and inspiring history against Russian efforts to appropriate and erase both.
Our Department has been extraordinarily proud to support this effort. Our Uniting for Ukraine initiative has provided safe haven and security for more than 154,000 Ukrainians – and in them, their ideals, their culture, their customs, their artistry, and more.
In small ways, we are also working to preserve Ukraine’s tangible history, as the 10 axes, swords, and daggers we are repatriating to the Ukrainian people today exemplify.
For hundreds of years – and in the case of two swords, for over 2,000 years – they were Ukrainian relics, of Ukrainian history, on Ukrainian land. Each artifact was stolen, illegally taken from Ukraine, and brought to Russia. Each was shipped by a Russian trafficker to the United States, on its way to a buyer. Each package was flagged by our National Targeting Center, intercepted en route at our New York City Port of Entry, and seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.
Thanks to their work, as well as the work of our Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations agents, each artifact is being returned to the people and the nation of Ukraine today.
Once again, these artifacts, which embody the unique history of Ukraine and the centuries-old resolve of its people, will reside at home where they belong.
It is my sincere hope that, now, these enduring pieces of history also will forever tell the story of the bond between Ukraine and the United States of America.
I want to again thank our entire Department of Homeland Security workforce for their work supporting Ukraine, and I want to thank President Zelensky, Ambassador Markarova, and the Embassy of Ukraine, for the honor of returning these artifacts in person. Slava Ukraini.