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U.S. official works with American businesses and allies to help Ukraine rebuild


As Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters a third year, our next guest is trying to keep Ukraine's economy going.

PENNY PRITZKER: What's really amazing is during this war, the economy is still alive, active and resilient, so there's a lot to do.

INSKEEP: Penny Pritzker is a former commerce secretary and now the U.S. special representative for Ukraine Reconstruction and Economic Recovery. The United States has provided more than $47 billion in support to Ukraine since the war began. Now, Republicans in Congress are blocking more aid to resist Russia. A Martínez asked Pritzker how she's working with American businesses and U.S. allies to help.

PRITZKER: There's a huge perception that the United States is doing all this work by itself, and that's not true. First of all, our allies have donated more money and more resources to Ukraine than we have. Second is they're very much working with Ukraine to also try and help their economy grow. You know, recently, the EU passed a package of over $50 billion of additional aid over the upcoming four years. Everything from infrastructure to budget relief.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: How can reconstruction begin when there's still a war happening?

PRITZKER: Well, first of all, let's keep in mind 60% of Ukraine has not experienced war. So there's definitely parts of Ukraine where investment is possible. We have good American companies that are expanding in Ukraine, whether it's Coca-Cola, which has its largest bottling plant in Europe, in Ukraine, and its plant was captured by the Russians and then taken back, and that plant was reconstructed. McDonald's increased the number of its outlets in Ukraine by 10%. Citigroup is working to reinvest the proceeds that it's earning in Ukraine back into the country.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there any reconstruction, any opportunities that you're focusing on right now that are happening right now or maybe can happen relatively soon?

PRITZKER: Yeah. Well, you've seen grain exports have grown three to four times just since August. That's because we've been able to demine and open a corridor along the Black Sea coastline that allows Ukraine's production of grains and, in fact, steel, as well, to be exported out of the country. The tech sector has grown 7%. Most U.S. tech companies that have facilities in Ukraine are still up and operating. GDP was up 5% last year. Investment was up 17%. Tax revenue was up 25% in January. Inflation is down 7%. There's no doubt there's a war going on and that's an impediment to extensive investment, but there is opportunity still today, and there is growth today.

MARTÍNEZ: What happens to reconstruction plans if Russia wins?

PRITZKER: Well, I assume that my efforts will stand down, but that's not going to be the case. With U.S. support, Ukraine has the capacity, has the resilience, has the capability of beating back Russia. But we cannot hold back on giving them the military equipment and the budget and economic assistance they need to persist and win.

MARTÍNEZ: Secretary, you have a personal family connection to Ukraine. How has that influenced your desire to serve in this post and how you approach this post?

PRITZKER: Well, why did my great grandfather leave Ukraine? The same issue that's going on today, the Russian pogroms 140 years ago, destroyed my family's grain store and threatened the life and livelihood of my ancestors. And here we are, 140 years later, and Russia is trying to do the same thing. We need to help.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Penny Pritzker, special representative for Ukraine Reconstruction and Economic Recovery. She's also a former commerce secretary. Secretary, thank you.

PRITZKER: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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