Return to Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from areas across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, from June to July of 2023. It was the second time in the span of a year that the award-winning Wisconsin news organization traveled to the country during the war. The purpose of this journalism project was to document a humanitarian aid mission by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, and report about conditions 17 months after Russia's brutal full-scale invasion.

On March 15, 2018, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Irpin Mayor Volodymyr Karplyuk from Ukraine signed a Sister City agreement to foster friendship and collaboration between the two municipalities.

President Joe Biden announced his intent to appoint Mayor Tom Barrett to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg on August 25, 2021. By November 2, hearings on his nomination were held, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee offered its approval on December 15. Barrett was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 16, and was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg on December 23. He arrived in Luxembourg on January 28, 2022. The Grand Duke of Luxembourg received Barrett’s credentials on February 10 at the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg City. Just two weeks later, on February 24, Russia began its unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

As part of the second photojournalism assignment by Milwaukee Independent to Ukraine over several weeks in June and July, the intention was to interview Ambassador Barrett in Luxembourg for his perspective. Schedules and logistics prevented an in-person meeting, but the Ambassador agreed to the written Q&A presented here as an alternative.


Q&A with Tom Barrett
United States Ambassador to Luxembourg

Milwaukee Independent: You arrived as Ambassador to Luxembourg just weeks before the Russian invasion, so what was that experience like as a fairly new diplomat?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: The world changed for everyone on February 24, 2022, when President Putin launched a premeditated and unprovoked attack on an independent and democratic Ukraine. President Putin thought he could easily divide the United States, Europe, and partners around the world, but he was wrong. We responded together and are stronger and more united now than ever. Our common response to this unjustified attack on Ukraine has required unprecedented coordination and information exchange between NATO Allies, within the alliance and other international organizations, but also on a bilateral level, including with Luxembourg. For me, having assumed the role of an ambassador just weeks before the invasion meant “hitting the ground running” but I had the support of an amazing team at the Embassy. Today, I am very proud of how the United States rallied our allies across the world, of our common efforts with Luxembourg, and of our strong unity, which is unwavering.

Milwaukee Independent: Having signed the Sister City agreement with Irpin in 2018, what was your personal reaction to the news that the city was under Russian occupation, and then later liberated?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: The humanitarian catastrophe that has been unleashed on the Ukrainian people by the Russian aggression is unimaginable and the suffering caused by Russia, in Irpin and across the whole country of Ukraine, is unfathomable. Having had a personal connection to Irpin and then seeing photos in the press of the city ruthlessly destroyed by this senseless war was heartbreaking. After liberation, Irpin has rightfully become one of the symbols of bravery and heroism of Ukrainian people and it has been very moving to see how people across the world, also in Milwaukee, have rallied in support of Irpin’s reconstruction. It is crucial that we all continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes because something much greater — the future of democracy, liberty, and freedom — is at stake here.

Milwaukee Independent: How would you summarize the local public’s view, over the past year, of the situation in Ukraine? Are sanctions against Russia having any blowback on Luxembourg’s economy?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: Luxembourg has been in lockstep with the United States and our other Allies in response to Russia’s ruthless war against Ukraine and public support for continuing our common efforts in support of Ukraine remains high. Together, the United States, Luxembourg, and our Allies and partners have implemented an unprecedented set of sanctions, export controls, and other economic costs, to impose severe consequences on Russia. We have all witnessed how today Russia is significantly worse off than it was before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine – militarily, economically, and geopolitically. Although Luxembourg, like the rest of Europe and the world, has been affected by President Putin’s efforts to drive up energy, food, and other household costs, these efforts have not and will not splinter our unity.

Milwaukee Independent: As a member of NATO, what support has Luxembourg offered to Ukraine, and what has been that impact?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led the United States, the European Union, and its individual member states like Luxembourg, to do more, and do more together than ever before, within NATO and bilaterally. Like the United States and our allies and partners, Luxembourg has provided unprecedented support to Ukraine through investments and transfers of equipment to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s aggression. Luxembourg can take much pride in its military aid to Ukraine constituting 17% of Luxembourg’s total defense budget. Together with the United States, Luxembourg has also stood firm in implementing sanctions, export controls, and freezing Russian assets. Our common response has had a significant impact that continues to accumulate in time. Russia’s war machine and defense exports have been degraded and Russia’s economy has been severely damaged. Luxembourg has stood united with the United States and our allies. Together, we will continue to help Ukraine be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table when the time comes.

Milwaukee Independent: What has been the most challenging part of being an Ambassador? What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of the position? And how does it compare to your previous offices as an elected official?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: I really love my work, but like any job, being an ambassador has its rewards and challenges. It is the mission of an ambassador that I find to be the biggest reward — the mission to represent the President and serve the American people by supporting U.S. foreign policy and advancing U.S. national interests abroad. It is rewarding and at the same time challenging having to quickly develop knowledge of local issues, culture, and history so I can help our policymakers better understand global events that affect the United States. I am still serving the American people like I did when I was mayor and before that as a member of Congress, but I’m now doing it on an international level by strengthening the relationships between the United States and Luxembourg.

Milwaukee Independent: What are some of your favorite things about Milwaukee that you share with people in Luxembourg? Is there anything you miss most from Milwaukee? And, anything you are happy to be distant from?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: Milwaukee will always be my home and have a special place in my heart. Even though I represent all Americans as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, I am also an ambassador for Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a lot to offer to Luxembourgers wishing to travel to the Midwest – from our amazing food and drink to culture and greenery. Not only does Milwaukee have a lot to offer as a tourist destination, but there are also mutually beneficial business and educational opportunities to explore. A number of students from Luxembourg have continued their education at Wisconsin universities. Our high-quality education is very well-known. It’s enriching living abroad but being away from home can at times be challenging. It is really the people I miss the most. I am grateful to have this opportunity to represent the United States and Milwaukee in Luxembourg.

Milwaukee Independent: Do you envision another term as Ambassador to Luxembourg, or to a different country? Would you return to Milwaukee when you retire from diplomatic service?

Ambassador Tom Barrett: I am committed to my current role as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, and there is still so much to be done in this role. On a global scale, the world is facing some of the biggest challenges in decades – Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the climate crisis, and increasing instability in various parts of the world, to name just a few. For the time being, I am determined to support President Biden’s foreign policy goals and work with our partners in Luxembourg to tackle some of these major challenges. For me, that goal takes precedence over any other future considerations.

Series: Return to Ukraine

U.S. Embassy Luxembourg

Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.

Return to Ukraine: Reports about a humanitarian mission from Milwaukee after a year of war