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Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: An Update From Kyiv

February 29, 202423:43

In this edition of Wilson Center NOW, we speak with Kira Rudik, member of the Ukrainian Parliament and leader of the Golos party. She discusses life in Kyiv on the two year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  She also provides an update on Ukraine’s continued need for weapons and support from the United States and Europe, recent setbacks on the front line, and how the people of Ukraine are coping with the war.


  • This is an unedited transcript

    Hello, I'm John Milewski. Welcome to Wilson Center. Now a production of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. We're joined by a very special guest today. She is Kira Rudik. Kira is a member of the parliament of Ukraine, where she serves as leader of the Holos Political Party. Before entering politics, Ms.. Rudik was an I.T. entrepreneur. She's been recognized as one of the top 100 most influential women in Ukraine.

    And Kira Rudik joins us from Kiev. Welcome back to the program and thank you for joining us. Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here. So let me ask you first on a personal level, how how are you doing? How are you and your family members doing? How are your colleagues doing? Two years into this unprovoked Russian invasion?

    The short answer is we just recently put back our curtains and we tried to pretend that nothing happened. But I think it's important to tell of what happened on January 2nd. So on January 2nd, there was another barrage of missile attack on Kiev. And it was 7 a.m. and the air raid sirens were on. We woke up because of it.

    It's not unusual for Kiev and other peaceful cities of Ukraine at the times like this. You're supposed to run pretty quickly to the bomb shelter or wherever you're hiding. And I was on my way and I was too slow. There was a missile hit near the home where I live. And I witnessed it being on the way to hiding under the stairs where we usually hide.

    I have seen the windows being pulled out of the frames and thrown in the middle of the room. The glass was everywhere. And the sound and the black smoke and fires. And it felt honestly like Armageddon. It was one of the most dramatic experiences, though. You know, I was really, really, really lucky because I got on the minor injuries and not all my neighbors were so lucky.

    So if you imagine a nine storey building was six entrances, this is where the missile hit. It burned to the ground. So the child is still there, but everything inside has been burnt. And we are located like maybe 500 meters from where it happened. And you can imagine that strength of the blast if this happened to our whole and we were running around asking the neighbors if everybody is alright, then we were waiting for the ambulances to come because as I said, I was really lucky.

    But not all my neighbors were and people were massively injured by the shatters of the glass. Then we were helping each other and after that I have a real I have a real answer to the question, How do you know that Putin doesn't want peace? And so I can tell you, I know this because I had seven bags of shattered glass on my backyard yesterday from inside my homes.

    So right now, a month and a half later, we fixed almost everything at home and we put the windows back. And recently we put on the curtains and now we are living and trying to pretend that it didn't happen. But it did. And I was really lucky on the other side because we were able to pay for our windows.

    But not all Ukrainians can. And just was that one hit? Five people were killed, more than 100 injured and more than 200 people lost their homes, which I do not think that they can rebuild any time soon. And you can imagine the amount of money that would be needed to rebuild it for them. And nothing could replace the trauma and the lost loved ones that they had.

    So that pushes us to have more energy into working into not only winning the war, but making Russia to pay for the war. And so the direction that they're working on, the confiscation of Russian assets is very important right now. And we'll be getting more and more important throughout this aggression when it goes, because it is so unfair that people who are supporting us right now, they are sending us their finance, the humanitarian help, but eventually they are paying for what Russia has broke.

    And this is really and a Russia should be saying for this. Well, thank you for sharing that story. I can all you said, I can imagine. And the fact is, I can only imagine having never lived through anything as horrific as what you describe. And I know it must be very traumatic. Traumatic. And you're keeping a stiff upper lip.

    And so thank you again for giving us some insight into what it must be like to be in that capital city during this war. Along those lines, Kara, how was the anniversary observed? Was it a completely somber time or was it a chance for Ukraine to sort of regroup and recommit itself in its effort against Russia? Well, the feeling was really like we have survived up to this point.

    Remember, not too many people believe that we will survive for a week or so. But to here, you know, up until this point, I never heard or seen anyone saying, we should reconsider what we are doing, or maybe we should strike a deal with Russia. Never, never at all. We know that there is generally only one plan and we are sticking to this plan is fighting and making sure that Russia would not attack us again because we have seen what happened in Buka.

    We already, all of us have paid a tremendous price for being able to fight for this and to be here and the. And so we did not change anything in the in what we plan to do. And we will continue fighting what we are we seeing the things that things should change is how the West sees the war.

    And I think we need to do to work on changing this narrative from helping Ukraine fight to letting Ukraine win. It is critical because it implies giving us enough weapons, not only the weapons that are available, but enough weapons so we can actually execute on the military plans that our military have. It implies that the sanctions should be analyzed according to how they work, not only how they voted and that they exist, but actually are they really delivering the result that we expecting.

    And of course, coming back to confiscation of the assets, I think it is critical to understand that because of the elections in the United States, because of the elections in Europe, it may happen that those money won't always be there. So we need to act fast. We have pretty much deadlines of this year to have the plan of how gas money will be used for the sake of Ukraine.

    Let me ask you about you mentioned how the world looks from the perspective of the West versus how it may look from the perspective of Ukraine. Along those lines, there have been concerns during the last several weeks from Western allies about the momentum of the war, particularly. There was a lot of discussion around the fall of and and at two at ease got back to the Russians up.

    What does that momentum look like from your perspective? Are you concerned that the tide may have turned? For us, it is very clear that our military are doing everything that is possible in in what they have in their hands. So we concentrate our efforts rather on getting them what they need. You know, we talk a lot with them and the questions they are asking is very simple and it's very hard to explain to them what's going on in the U.S. Congress.

    So they asking like, what's going to happen and how is it possible that the President Biden has made this promise to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes? And now there is still some political debate that are not getting the resolution. And this is why we look, I can't do anything on the battlefields right now, but I can work on the international arena and make sure that our military will get the help delivered.

    So this is why we I concentrate their efforts. It is not. There is not a feeling, not a bad feeling in Ukraine. It's rather saying, okay, what else can we do? And, you know, that is a very strong volunteer movement in Ukraine where people are buying weapons and supplies and drones. So that loss of DPKO was another push to people to collect money to buy more drones.

    Saying, okay, well, there there are some delays in the Congress. We will we will collect money by ourselves. We will buy something that is missing for our military and to help them to continue fighting. It's of course, not. It's not Patriot missile systems. Right. But it is still something that we can do from our side. And I think this what this is what this war has been about for every Ukrainian.

    Instant question, what can I do to help the country to win the war, to help all of us, As you and I record this message, Sweden is on the verge of official membership. All the hurdles have been cleared and now it's down to the technicalities. Official membership in Naito. And just today, President Macron did not rule out the possibility of NATO's troops on the ground in Ukraine.

    Talk to us about what that means to you and your country. And I know that Ukraine eventually aspires to full membership in NATO's as well. Well, you see two flags behind my back. It's native flag and EU flag. Ukraine's flag and flag with my party. And it's not because these are my wishes. These are the wishes of Ukrainian people.

    And I want to remind everybody that the war did not start in 2022. It started in 2014 when Ukrainian people expressed once again their strong desire to join NATO. And the president, who was at that time and Russia couldn't take it. So right now, we continue fighting for the same aspiration, for the same goal to define our own future and for our country at some point to join the EU and to join NATO.

    And we are on the both path. It's much more clear our paths to European Union because as a parliamentarian, I know what we are voting for and I know how the process goes. And we are actually and we are being exemplary in this matter because we are doing everything by the book and we do hope that we will be able to go this path really quickly.

    We know that there are many hurdles there, but I truly believe that we will be able to get our country to European Union at some foreseeable future. About data. It's much harder. However, when the war is over, Ukraine will have the biggest and the strongest army on on the earth. I think maybe only on the European continent will be hard to say.

    But all in all, the experience that we are getting right now, both for other people but also with the Western weapons, I think will be priceless in terms of strengthening the alliance. About about the statement from French President Macron. I can tell you one thing we are okay with dividing responsibilities. We have people on the ground who are fighting and have very good at this and we can continue doing this.

    We say you may not send your people here. We are fighting for our country, for our states, for our future. But send us the weapons, because this sounds like we are constantly asking for the weapons and for the missiles and for the ammunition. There are delays and there are very, very limited supplies. And so just get that done for us and you wouldn't have to send any troops to Ukraine along those lines, along the support that is necessary to to help you, as our ally, survive this war and as you put it, win this war, not just survive it.

    But what about the level of support and where it sits right now versus the need? I know that the European Union has stepped up in a big way. You mentioned the politics in the U.S. that have delayed President Biden's request for additional funding. Can you give us some sense of how much time is left? A lot of the discussion in Washington see is that we need to hurry up.

    If we're going to support our ally, we need to to pass the legislation now and not wait. What's the timeline look like from your perspective? I'm not a military expert and I can only operate with the open information. So let's talk in comparison. And first of all, we know that Russia and its allies, Iran and North Korea, are producing weapons 24 seven and there has been confirmations that Iran is sending Russia the drones, and we have been attacked by those drones.

    And we had just recently a missile hit near Kiev by North Korean missile. So that tells you everything about sanctions and if they work. Given that North Korea has been sanctions a while ago and not just two years like Russia and second, it gives you an understanding on that they have a production in place on the at the end of the last year is a difference in between the amount of ammunition between Ukraine and Russia were 1 to 20.

    That has been reported from our soldiers. Right now I think it is a little bit better, but not too much. Last year, European Union has promised us a million ammunition pieces for Ukraine and less than a third of that has been delivered and accord about the Congress support. So it was supposed to be voted four months ago, 60 billion, and most of that is military production.

    So money will stay in the United States and then the weapons will be sent to Ukraine or restock the supplies in other NATO countries so we can receive the weapons. Even if we had money. We cannot buy those weapons because they are only produced in certain places. So it was supposed to be voted four months ago. And even if a miracle happens and it's voted today, it will take time for the decisions to be made, for the money to be transferred, for the military, for the weapons to be produced, and for them to be delivered to Ukraine.

    So no matter how hard it how fast it will happen, it will still be time and we will pay with the lives of our people, and not only people who are fighting near the front, but people at the peaceful cities who go to bed and don't know if they are going to wake up in the morning. And it is terrifying that the whole world democratic world, is concentrated on the elections right now.

    And for us, time flows very differently. You know, like the way how time goes in Brussels or in D.C. when you are in a peaceful place is very different than how it goes in trenches or in a bomb shelter. And this is why we are urging our partners, our allies, to to get into our shoes and make the decisions passed.

    Well, I want to ask you more about that, about getting into your shoes, that the you know, when when you look at a war from a distance, you see pictures, you see video, but it's not the visceral experience of living in a community, as you put it, where you go to bed at night and you're afraid that you may not wake up in the morning.

    Could you give us even more insight into what's daily life like now? Are children going to school? Are essential services largely working in the cities that are still under Ukrainian control? Give us and the world some sense on that totally human level of what daily life is like. Of course. So daily life really depends on how close you are to the frontline, because we are not only talking about the missiles and drones, but also artillery.

    And we and we are talking about cities like Kharkiv or Ferguson. They are closer and they could be sometimes reached out, but by very unexpected shifts. Well, you wake up usually by the sound of the air raid siren and you go you start to day either in the bomb shelter or wherever you hide. This is where you have usually lots of stuff prepared, like some crackers and food and and some water.

    And you always have your backpack for the run in case something happens and you have your medical aid kit there and you have you always charge your phone. You never forget to charge your phone because we still don't know if there will be some blackouts if if the night was very tough. It is okay to reschedule your early meetings or or to go to work late because everyone understands that, especially if you have a family, that it is hard on everyone.

    So you can imagine what happens if kids didn't get enough sleep and if they and everybody was like still sleep for a couple of hours. Then people go to work and kids go to school or kindergartens. However, it is only allowed to have a school or kindergarten if there is a bombshell desire. And it's usually right now two years in pretty well-equipped, though there are some schools that are closed still and people and pupils cannot continue learning just because it's still really, really dangerous and the state doesn't allow it then during.

    So there are not too many blog posts left a year ago or most of Ukraine. It is still had many blog posts with the documents check and you live your almost normal life at that moment, talking about particular things and trying to dedicate some time to the volunteering is a major thing, is also a curfew. So in different cities it's different times.

    In Kiev, it's midnight till 5 a.m. It's when you cannot be on the streets at all. And often this is when this is when the attacks start. So people are following very closely the news. And it is something that is always like in your hands. And all of us have all of us have this I wouldn't say trauma, but all of us have somebody fighting at the front right now.

    Right. So for us, it's very personal. So even if what I'm driving, I'm being very careful because I don't know is in the car near me that cut the line or like stopped suddenly, maybe there is a person there who received the worst news or maybe it's someone who is they just driving very fast to the hospital where they delivered people from the front.

    So you understand that everybody is hurting. You kind of get used to that. But there is there is something that I want also to to really admit. So you know how we say that everyone is tired and it's very hard to to live like for two years in in that nightmare. But when this thing happened, when the explosion happened near my home, I didn't witness any bickering or any disagreement.

    People were so close and so helpful, full to each other, dealing with each other's kids, driving someone to the hospital, trying to clean up, then cover their broken windows. And then at night, before the curfew, so many volunteers went to clean the glass from the ground because like once the snow falls, it's very hard to to clean it, to clean it up.

    I don't because I was like running around with my neighbors. I don't even know who helped out to cover my windows at the first floor. And I'm so thankful to this person. You know, like my mom says in winter, people should act like birds on the tree that are sitting very closely. So this is what I had witnessed.

    No matter was all the pain and disasters, we still have it in us and we still have it in us not only to help each other, but also to fight. And I know this. I witnessed this. Yeah. You know, it's maybe it's a beautiful thing, but it's also a bit of a sad thing that it takes often the worst to bring out the best in us.

    But I remember last time you and I talked, you talked about a priest challenging the congregation, including you, to find a way to be your best self during this this traumatic experience. Thank you. Say, I care before we sign off. You've been very generous in answering all my questions. I just want to ask you one final open ended question.

    Is there anything we haven't talked about that you think it's important for us to know or understand? I know you do a lot of interviews. Are there things you're not asked that you think it's important for us to to focus on? I think we always need to remember that Russia took more than 90,000 of our kids and it's it's not something that has been publicly talked about.

    So this is something that ICC was able to move forward with and issue a warrant for Putin's arrest. And every single day when, like I'm walking around and I'm seeing families around, what I'm thinking is that can you just imagine how 19,000 kids look like if they gather to the same place? Should be pretty loud, right?

    But can you imagine, like how many seats and how many families are broken this way? And it's only documented cases. And I want everyone who is thinking about making the peace or or discussing or doing anything or having any deals with Putin. Keep this in mind, the people who have kidnaped and moved 90,000 kids, probably not the people that you can have a peace deal with.

    Right. Yeah. Good words to end on. Thank you for that warning. And thank you for your time today and your ongoing resolve as you face this incredible challenge. Karadzic is a member of parliament in Ukraine, leader of the of House Party. She joins us from Kiev. Thanks again, Kira. Thank you. And glory to Ukraine.

    This is all for this edition of Wilson Center now. We hope you enjoyed it and that you'll join us again soon. Until then, for all of us at the center. I'm John MALESKY. Thank you for your time and interest.


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