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Ukrainian delegation rallies Washington for support

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Every so often this year, as war has unfolded in Ukraine, I have been checking in with Hanna Hopko. She's a pro-democracy activist, a former member of parliament in Ukraine and a fellow mom. I first met her in Kyiv right before the war. She has helped me and, I hope, many of our listeners understand the human toll that war is taking on her country and helped me understand just how hard Ukrainians are willing to fight for their country. So I wanted to hear her reaction to the news of Ukraine's stunning military advance over the weekend. It turns out Hanna Hopko is in Washington this week - in fact, here in our studios. Hanna Hopko, so good to speak to you again, so good to see you in person - welcome to Washington.

HANNA HOPKO: Thanks a lot, Mary Louise. I'm really proud to be here to express our gratitude to the American people, to American leadership for helping us to win over Russian aggression.

KELLY: Well, speaking of winning, the headlines these last few days are big battlefield victories for Ukraine, seizing land back that Russia had taken in eastern Ukraine. We hear that Moscow is reeling from this setback. Do you see this as a turning point in the war?

HOPKO: Thanks to the U.S. military aid and your HIMARS and...

KELLY: A HIMARS is the weapons that take out Russian air defenses that the U.S. has been sending.

HOPKO: Yeah. So helped - is a game-changer. But complete Ukrainian victory means restoration of full territorial integrity and sovereignty and internationally recognized border of 1991. So this is why...

KELLY: Taking back Crimea.

HOPKO: Yes, taking back...

KELLY: Taking back all of eastern Ukraine.

HOPKO: Yeah, because every inch of Ukrainian territory should be free from Russian occupiers.

KELLY: So I'm hearing you say the goal, the unswerving goal here must be complete Ukrainian victory; that a return to the way things were a year ago, two years ago, where Russia occupied Crimea, that that would not be acceptable.

HOPKO: Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 by illegal annexation of Crimea. This is how the global security architecture was broken. And Ukrainian victory means, of course, a return back to Ukraine, Donbas and Crimea.

KELLY: But I'm asking because, as I'm sure you are hearing in Washington and have heard on your past visits in Washington, a lot of U.S. officials are skeptical that you're going to get Russia to pull out completely at this point; that Vladimir Putin will never do that; and that the U.S. and NATO allies say they very much want Ukraine to have a better hand when negotiations start, but that there's going to be a negotiation.

HOPKO: First, Ukraine should defeat Russian military. Then, negotiation starts. Because we have to defeat totalitarianism in 21st century. It's key.

KELLY: When you and I spoke over the summer, you told me that you were losing not one, not three, five friends a day killed in the war; that every time you opened WhatsApp or opened Facebook, it was somebody else you knew who was gone. Is that still happening?

HOPKO: Yes. So this is another reason why we are asking about more weapons. It's so painful to see stories and funerals. And when best of the best, the brightest people of my country, of our nation, passing away by defending Ukraine's freedom - and I'm sure and I'm full of optimism that people there with their empathy to Ukraine, with their support. So we will conduct public awareness campaign to explain why it's really important to continue supporting Ukraine in this Russian genocidal war against us and to win together and not to allow devastation moving beyond our borders and actually to prevent new wars.

KELLY: The guinea pig - a lot of people listening, I think, know and think of you as the guinea pig mom...

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: ...A title that you have added this year. You'd just bought your daughter a guinea pig when Russia invaded. And you were all worried about having to evacuate with the guinea pig, which you have done. What is the update? Where is the guinea pig? Where is your daughter? What's happening?

HOPKO: We evacuated to my husband's parents. They were very happy, I would (laughter) - happy because we also, when we evacuated a dog, it seems like we will have zoo (laughter).

KELLY: This is a puppy that you've added.

HOPKO: The puppy, yes. So we're still divided. So my daughter is with my parents. My husband is alone. My home is everywhere when I can't help my country to win. So I'm traveling a lot and already visited Czech Republic because of - they are presidency in the EU. Then I go - went to Georgia, to Belize. Now I'm in Washington. Then I'm planning to visit Hungary, Canada.

KELLY: I think this is important for people to hear because we keep - we are hearing from our reporters in Ukraine that while war is, of course, brutal and ongoing in some parts of Ukraine, that life in the capital, in Kyiv, has in many ways returned to "normal." I'm using air quotes around "normal," but something closer to normal. For your family, very much not. Your husband, your daughter, you, the pets, you're all in different places. This is a still - your life is completely upended.

HOPKO: Yeah, but compared to people who lost their loved one - so we are suffering, of course because for last seven months, I've seen my daughter only seven days. But I understand that contribution I could do for my country to win faster is even more important than now being together with my family and because it's also part of our victory when my daughter and her husband in the future - in 20, 30 years period of time from now - will never face aggressive behavior from our neighbor so - and Russia will never attack any sovereign, independent states in the future.

KELLY: Hanna Hopko, thank you.

HOPKO: Thank you, Mary Louise. And thank you for your covering and visiting Ukraine. And Ukraine is always welcome. And you will see finally guinea pig.

KELLY: I will look forward to it. I will look forward to it. That is activist and former member of parliament in Ukraine and the guinea pig mom Hanna Hopko. Nice to see you. Thank you.

HOPKO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.