Ukrainian Parliament member on how her country has changed since the war
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
We turn now to Lesia Vasylenko. She's a member of the Ukrainian parliament. She joins us from Kyiv. When all of this began a year ago, where did you think or hope Ukraine would be a year later?
LESIA VASYLENKO: Honestly, I was hoping that a year in, we would be already celebrating victory. Actually, I was hoping that this would happen in less than a year, in six months. I guess it was very naive, wishful thinking.
MARTÍNEZ: Do you think the West could have been more helpful earlier on in this process?
VASYLENKO: Oh, absolutely. Definitely. We had prevention signals coming to us from all over the world - the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France - well, you name it. Every single country thought their duty to warn us that Russia was amassing troops on the Ukraine-Russian borders, waiting for - to escalate the aggression, waiting for a mass attack. But every time, we were asking, OK, so you're giving us this information. Are you going to give us the weapons to go with it to defend ourselves? Maybe you're going to send in the troops that can be stationed in Ukraine to prevent Russia even thinking these kind of thoughts, let alone to amass the troops. But every time, the eyes were averted. And the conversation sort of went offline. And it was as if the whole world presumed that Ukraine would just fold within those first hours of Russian attacks, which was, to be frankly speaking, very, very unpleasant in the months and the weeks and the days coming up to the war. It was almost as if we were absolutely hopeless, although we weren't. And it was quite depressing having those conversations, knowing that Russia might attack, as Russia did attack, and that, essentially, we will be left to our own resources, which we were for a while.
MARTÍNEZ: So is it fair to say that if this help had arrived sooner, you think that all of this might have been avoided, or at least a big part of it?
VASYLENKO: Well, I'm sure if the world had shown the same kind of bravery that the Ukrainian people showed in those first hours of the 24 of February, and the same kind of unity, that a lot of the deaths, a lot of the casualties and the destruction could have been prevented, if not all of it.
MARTÍNEZ: You're a mom. You have three small children. How do you think that your kids will carry the memories of this past year as they grow up?
VASYLENKO: Oh, my. That's the most difficult question for a mother to answer. Again, a lot of wishful thinking here - I hope that I have managed to give them a childhood despite the war. I hope that I am managing to give them the best education they can get. I have evacuated them on the 1 of March for that reason. And they are staying abroad while I share my life between not two countries, but the whole world, trying to fit time with them in between. But at the same time, I don't know how they will turn out. I don't know what they will be telling me or their therapists in the years to come. I know surely that the war has left a mark on them. They long for Ukraine. They want to go back to Ukraine. They don't understand why I keep coming back so often and they can only come visit during holidays.
MARTÍNEZ: I mean, you're probably not unlike many Ukrainian parents that maybe have not spent hardly any time with their kids over the past year.
VASYLENKO: Well, I'm lucky. I keep saying that every single time, that I'm actually very much blessed, very much lucky that I get to see them on a regular basis, even if it's for a couple of days, for a week, maybe a couple of weeks at best. But many Ukrainian parents are separated from their kids because fathers are fighting on the front line. Mothers are fighting at the front line. You know, fathers are not seeing their kids because they remain in Ukraine. Men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country because they are subject to military service. But the women and the children have left and have not had the opportunity to return. So in this respect, of course, I'm much more better off than most.
MARTÍNEZ: What worries you the most about Ukraine now that we're entering the second year?
VASYLENKO: I hope that the support is there for the days to come, for every single day that it is necessary for us to fight to bring victory closer and to bring a final victory for Ukraine and for the world. I hope that there's no fatigue, there's no tiredness. And I hope that there's actually a stronger mobilization effort in the weeks to come that will mean that Ukraine gets all the weapons it needs in the time that it needs to fend off, to fight off and to counterattack the Russians and to de-occupy the Ukrainian territories.
MARTÍNEZ: You said and used the word victory there. Earlier today, you tweeted, the longest day started a year ago. It still goes in Ukraine and will go on until the end, until our victory. Lesia, what does victory for Ukraine look like for you? What must it include?
VASYLENKO: Finally, an easy question. So victory - victory is all of Ukrainian territories de-occupied, brought back under the Ukrainian flag - Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk - all the regions that have been under occupation since 2014 when it all first started nine years ago. For me, it's not enough just to kick the Russians out from Ukraine. There must be responsibility. There must be justice. The leadership of the Russian Federation must be brought to justice. But also, there must be reparations paid. There must be amendments made. There must be words of apologies said not just by the Russian leadership but by the Russian people, who have endorsed, supported or stayed quiet through this time of pain for Ukraine.
MARTÍNEZ: That's Ukrainian lawmaker Lesia Vasylenko. Thank you very much.
VASYLENKO: Thank you.
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