- A former member of Ukraine’s Parliament spoke to Insider about the ongoing Russian assault.
- Hanna Hopko urged average American and European citizens to find ways to help Ukrainians.
- “The victory of Ukraine defends you and the world from tyranny, from genocide, from nuclear threats,” she said.
Hanna Hopko cries frequently these days.
The Ukrainian activist and former member of Ukraine’s parliament has dedicated much of her life to serving her country — the same country that now finds itself in the throes of a brutal, unprovoked war as Russian forces continue their attacks across Ukraine.
The heartbreaking images and stories coming out of Ukraine each day are impossible to stomach, Hopko told Insider. But keeping herself busy — and helpful — is crucial amid Russia’s ongoing assault.
Hopko was in Kyiv as the tanks rolled into Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday, February 24, but has since made her way to Poland, where she is holding regular meetings with foreign delegations and international leaders on behalf of Ukraine.
Since the war began, Hopko has met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Belgium’s minister of foreign affairs, members of the Estonian Parliament, and several other dignitaries in an effort to secure international assistance for her nation.
“There are a lot of foreigners coming so I need to stay here and advocate for more support for Ukraine,” she told Insider. “I’m more effective here than I used to be near Kyiv.”
—Hanna Hopko (@HopkoHanna) March 13, 2022
Being away isn’t easy, though, especially with her husband still in Ukraine, defending their home country. Their guinea pig, whom Hopko said was a cherished family member, is also back in Kyiv, staying with a friend.
Hopko spoke to Insider from Poland on Friday, March 11, where she discussed the work she’s been doing on behalf of Ukraine since Russia invaded three weeks ago. She also highlighted Ukraine’s demands of its international allies and urged everyday citizens to get involved.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
You were in Kyiv three weeks ago when the Russian troops first rolled into the country, correct? What was that experience like?
Yes, I was in Kyiv. It’s a very painful experience because when they started the war, [I actually found out] that [I was] on an assassination list. Russia identified political figures, activists, and others.
Many foreign experts and my friends told me, “Hanna, you should be leaving Kyiv, not staying there, because if [the Russians] manage to occupy Kyiv, then they will start using your phone number and new technologies to find out where you are, so it’s very dangerous for you. And with all your experience you have to work for your country and not sit in fear that they could kill you.”
What was your response when you found out you were on a targeted list? Were you afraid?
No. It made me even stronger to make Ukraine’s victory happen. Because without Ukrainian victory there will never be sustainable peace.
People like me and my friends from different civil society organizations and from parliament, we will be on the [Russian target lists] to be killed or to be poisoned every time. Since 2016, I’ve been on the sanction list of the Russian Federation [because of] my service as the head of the [Committee on Foreign Affairs for Ukraine’s Parliament].
But of course, as a mother of an 11-year-old daughter — she will turn 11 this March — it’s a sad moment that you don’t actually know what could happen.
Is it difficult to be separated from your husband who is still in Ukraine right now?
It is important to be together, especially in this hellish nightmare of times. But now it’s important to know what everyone in our family can do most effectively for our country. It’s not about us.
After the situation in Mariupol, when the hospital was bombed — this tragic event, these war crimes — it’s important to do everything possible to stop Putin and to punish Putin. So this is why, for me, we have to defend Ukraine and not allow Putin to take control of Kyiv.
So of course, it’s hard because my husband is not with us. Our guinea pig is at our friend’s house near Kyiv. We miss Kyiv and there were many heartbroken times that I was just crying and could not stop.
I even cried many times during my interviews at different international TV channels, because it’s something that you cannot accept, this new reality, to see newborn kids in the bomb shelters. And yesterday, I saw [pictures of] the body of a little Ukrainian girl found in the debris of a Russian attack, so I was crying again.
A day ago, I told myself “Stop crying. You have to be strong. Because the stronger you are, the more efficient you will be to your nation.”
Then I saw pictures of [Serhiy Perebyinis’s] family. The Russians killed his beautiful wife and two kids while they attempted to evacuate from Irpin, a small town near Kyiv. And this poor guy learned about their deaths from Twitter.
I saw this and started crying again. Because this is my nation and my people. And of course, as a human being, I don’t even have words to say what this is.
How are your meetings with international leaders going? What are you asking of Ukraine’s allies?
From civilized nations, we want them to protect Ukraine because it’s about humanity. Also, the US is a security guarantor of Ukraine.
We know that American people support the no-fly zone, more than 70%.
Editor’s Note: Polling on Americans’ support for a no-fly zone has been inconsistent. One poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos found nearly 74% of Americans supported the step, while a separate YouGov poll for The Economist, found only 45% approved of the measure.
NATO and its member countries have said repeatedly that they will not impose a no-fly zone due to concerns that it could draw them into a war with Russia. Do you understand their reasoning? What is your response to that explanation?
There is no explanation [for why] you are not acting when Russia is bombing residential areas, killing kids; there is no explanation for why you are not acting.
Besides the security guarantees provided for us during the Clinton [era], there is the question of why NATO is not afraid that if Putin attacks Ukraine and Ukraine fails, then the NATO members will be next. So Ukrainian victory is really important for the NATO members.
Do you think NATO and allied countries are aware of these points? Do you understand why they’re hesitant to get more involved?
It seems like the US is lacking leadership and lacking strategy toward Russia. They have plans for what to do with a failed Ukraine, but they don’t know what to do with a Ukraine that is defeating Russia.
Russia is failing in Ukraine, so they don’t have a concept of what to do with Russia, which is being defeated by the Ukrainian army and by the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian nation.
So this is why the bureaucracy is so slow to react with fighter jets for us. But not just fighter jets, but all ammunition, all military assistance, like jets, Javelins, and drones.
Editor’s note: On Wednesday, March 16, five days after this interview, US President Joe Biden announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total to $1 billion this week. Biden said the US will send its “most cutting-edge” systems to the country, including 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-armor systems, 7,000 small arms, and 20 million rounds of ammunition. Congress also passed a spending bill that includes $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine.
Beyond the no-fly zone, what are your most pressing demands of NATO and allied countries right now?
Provide maximum military assistance to Ukraine, like anti-aircraft and air-defense missiles, protective gear, and security communications. Within the 16 days of Russia’s full-scale war, we have proved that we are very strong on ground battle. We are not allowing Russians to occupy new cities or Kyiv. But our weak side is anti-air protection and anti-missiles. We need air defense missiles and anti-aircraft. This is of crucial importance.
Second, what we demand is to press Putin through different international organizations and to allow the Red Cross to save lives with green corridors and help with evacuation and food supply. The hellish nightmare situation in Mariupol means 400,000 citizens are hostages and they are drinking water from boiling snow because there is no gas or electricity. One kid died of dehydration. Green corridors are about saving lives.
We are also demanding — and we are working on this — we’ve started collecting evidence to establish an international tribunal to prosecute Putin for war crimes and crimes against humanity. And not just Putin, but Putin’s people, too. Also, sanctions against Putin’s oligarchs and their families, deportations from Western countries, and an embargo on oil.
Editor’s note: The Biden administration said its assistance package announced Wednesday will include Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, shoulder-fired AT-4 weapons to be used against armored vehicles, mortar rounds, body armor, helmets, and an unspecified make of “tactical” drones.
Do you have hope that more assistance will be coming?
I do hope there will be more, but look, time matters here. We cannot just sit and hear explanations that this is because of bureaucracy. No. We can save people. Children will die.
So, my question is: Does morality end at the NATO border?
What do you want Americans or Europeans to know about the situation in Ukraine?
The victory of Ukraine defends you and the world from tyranny, from genocide, from nuclear threats. Please stop Putin and you will avoid a new war. It’s in your interest also.
What I said before: Does morality end at the NATO border? No. And that’s why I’m asking President Biden to demonstrate leadership in standing up to Putin’s expansionism campaign.
What can the average American or European citizen who is watching this war unfold do to help Ukraine right now?
They can write and sign petitions to the American president like we did. Seventy women in Ukraine, activists, and politicians, signed a letter to Biden with all of our demands. So, follow the demands in our letter and you could initiate something similar.
On a political level — work with Congress and the White House. Second: collect money and donate to the Ukrainian army or join the [International Legion] to stop Russians or help Ukrainian refugees because they are smart people and they could contribute to different nations and also contribute to your country. They have experience in local municipalities, in business. We are a very educated nation, so this is why it’s very important we contribute to the development of the world.
Editor’s note: The US State Department on Friday, March 11, warned US citizens from going to Ukraine to participate in the fight amid reports of Americans traveling to the besieged country to assist Ukraine in its war efforts. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said those who go risk “capture or death,” and emphasized that the US is unable to provide assistance to Americans who choose to go.
Do you have any other messages you’d like to share?
I invite Americans to visit Ukraine because there is no doubt that Ukraine will win and prevail. We have more than 1,000 years of history. We have survived, even during the last century, during two World Wars.
In America, you build your nation saying, “In God We Trust.” We in Ukraine, trust in God, but we would also like to see and trust in NATO and the US because it’s also now about the credibility of international organizations.
It’s not just about us. Putin is already attacking American society via cyber attacks. So this is why it’s about your protection.
We are one of the oldest nations on the European continent so it’s in God’s plan to save us. So, either you join us and help us defeat this tyranny or you will, for many years, be shameful for not stopping Putin.