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‘I Want Ukraine to Exist.’ A Ukrainian Member of Parliament on Why the West Needs to Do More

7 minute read

Aryn Baker is the senior international climate and environment correspondent at TIME. She covers the human impacts of climate change, as well as food security, oceans, climate migration, and extreme heat.

She lives in Rome, and has reported from more than 50 countries, as TIME's Africa bureau chief based in Cape Town, the Middle East bureau chief based in Beirut, Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief based in Kabul and as Asia correspondent based in Hong Kong. She has won multiple awards for her writing, reporting, and documentary film work.

Inna Sovsun is an opposition member of the Ukrainian Parliament, in the liberal, pro-European Holos party. Faced with an existential threat, Ukraine’s government and its people are working together to repel the Russian invasion. They still need more help. She spoke to TIME’s Aryn Baker by video phone from a friend’s house in Kyiv. Her own home, on the top floor of an apartment block, no longer feels safe.

It has been relatively quiet here in Kyiv. But in other cities, it’s just terrible. I’m looking at those pictures from Kharkhiv which has been turned into Aleppo. It was my native city. I went to school there. In Kyiv, we are hearing the air raid alerts now and then. It’s scary. The idea that the Russians might enter on tanks at any time is hard to accept. This feeling of not being safe is exhausting.

As a member of parliament, leaving would be the wrong signal, a recognition of defeat. But my son is 500 kilometers away, in western Ukraine with his dad, my ex-husband. My dad is somewhere in Kyiv in territorial defense, and we only have contact with him once in a few days—my mom is going crazy because of that. And my boyfriend is with the army, I don’t even know which region. There is no good reason for me being so far away from my loved ones right now, but that’s what it is.

There are roads leading [in and out of] Kyiv which are free of the Russian bastards. If they don’t encircle the city, then we’re fine. Kyiv will stand strong. If they do it will be much more complicated. Millions of people are still here. They are trying to defend the city and they will not leave. They are determined. It’s not like I’m fighting on the streets. Not yet. I hope it will not come to that. But it really depends on so many factors. If [the Russians] continue bombing our cities from the air, there is not really much we can do. We have seen what [the Russians] have done to towns around Kyiv. Irpin has been just bombarded. It doesn’t exist anymore. That is why we need a no-fly zone. That is a matter of survival for us.

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We asked NATO to establish a no-fly zone, but NATO says it will cause a wider conflict. Well, it’s already happening. What the West needs to grasp is that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has gone completely crazy. He is nuts and he needs to be murdered. Someone should really be working on that.

As long as he stays president [of Russia], he is not just a danger to Ukraine. He already said that he doesn’t like that Poland is in NATO. So let’s imagine he takes Kyiv, he takes Ukraine, and his army is on the Polish border. What will NATO do then? You will still have to get involved. It will be a Third World War, so why not start it now when millions of lives can be saved?

NATO pretends that this is just a local conflict that is not going to spread—that just letting a dictator take over an eastern European state will be enough. I think we learned that lesson in the Second World War. Everybody was saying, “Well, Czechoslovakia, who cares about that? Let’s let Putin, sorry Hitler, take it and everything will be fine.” It won’t because Putin is the Hitler of our times. He is completely mad. He’s completely delusional. He is completely out of control. And that is why NATO being in denial is actually very scary. Because that means that the strongest military bloc in the world denies the existing reality.

NATO will have to intervene in one way or another. And the best way to do that now is to help Ukraine. And if NATO doesn’t want to get into a fight directly—let’s imagine there is value to that argument—well then just give us the fighter jets. We have the pilots. That’s all, that’s all we’re asking for. Give us the fighter jets, continue to supply us with weapons and we shall fight this battle for the whole world on our own, if that’s the price we have to pay.

The parliament as a legislative body is not really working right now. I mean, what can we do? But the government continues to function. It doesn’t matter anymore which party we belong to; we are working together to the best of our abilities. Some MPs are working with humanitarian aid, coordinating food supplies. Some joined the army. A lot of the MPs joined the territorial defense units. Many are with their constituencies. I do not represent a constituency, so like the other MPs who speak good English and who are able to communicate, I’m talking to the world, all international media that are willing to listen to us. And that is crucially important because I’m absolutely sure that without support from the West we wouldn’t be able to survive. The only party that is not involved is the pro-Russian group. Ironically enough, the majority of the MPs from the pro-Russian group left Ukraine for the West, not for Mother Russia, which they claim to love so much. But the others are united. So, the government is working. The government is not leaving. We are not being evacuated.

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What happens next depends on the level of support we get. I don’t see the Ukrainian people or the Ukrainian government surrendering. This is not an option. I see those guys fighting. I see the resistance and the resilience. So, the question is just how long this war will last. And that really depends on the support we shall be getting from the West. If we get at least the fighter jets, then we can fight back and kick them out of our country. If we don’t then we shall just see this enormous devastation of the country and lives will be destroyed.

[This morning], the Russians opened a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol, a large port city in Southeast Ukraine that has been under siege for a week [the shelling started up again just after Sovsun spoke with TIME]. People were sitting in basements, in shelters, in bomb bunkers with their children without any electricity. It was around zero degrees. So, the Russians allowed for a humanitarian corridor for women and children to leave. And those women, they probably realize they’re not coming back. They don’t have a home anymore. And now I’m thinking, I was building my life in Kyiv. I was saving to buy my apartment. If I have to leave, if my home is destroyed, it means I’m 37 and I have to start everything again from scratch. I don’t know where, and the worst of it, I don’t know why. So, I’m thinking about those women and children leaving Mariupol right now. Of course, they’re happy to be leaving for somewhere safe where bombs are not falling on their heads every day. But it’s painful to realize that this is what they’re going through.

The future I want for Ukraine? First of all, I want Ukraine to exist. I want all of us to be alive. I want all of us to be able to choose where we want to live. I want all of us to rebuild Ukraine. I want to rebuild Ukraine as a democratic liberal state where everyone’s rights are respected, where everyone can fulfill their dreams. That was my dream before, that’s why I came to the parliament. And it is the same dream right now. When we win, and that can take years or that can take months, that’s really up for the West to decide right now—I really just want my son to be able to stay here. I miss him so much.

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