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Ukrainian activist pleads with Washington lawmakers for more military support

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When I last interviewed Hanna Hopko, it was February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, and Hopko was in hiding outside Kyiv with her husband and a guinea pig. OK, let me back up. Hopko is a former member of Ukraine's parliament. She was one of the original leaders of the pro-democracy Euromaidan protests in 2014. Hanna Hopko is also a mom whose 11-year-old daughter had been begging for a pet guinea pig for months in the runup to the invasion. When war came, Hopko evacuated her daughter to safety, and she went into hiding with the guinea pig in tow. Well, this week Hanna Hopko is in Washington, and I could not wait to catch up.

Hi.

HANNA HOPKO: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm just from the long meeting with State Department.

KELLY: I'm glad to see you.

HOPKO: Oh, I'm so happy.

KELLY: We arranged to meet up downtown as she was racing from one meeting to the next. I started by asking, is your family OK, your daughter?

HOPKO: I haven't seen my daughter from March 2. She had to live with my parents, my sister and her two daughters. Yeah. So actually, I'm planning, after my foreign visits, finally, to meet my daughter probably in July. And...

KELLY: That's a long time. That's four months.

HOPKO: Yeah, it's four months. But we couldn't expect that there would be full-scale escalation when we had to leave.

KELLY: OK. Just before we move on, your daughter, she's safely out of Ukraine?

HOPKO: Yes.

KELLY: OK. And the guinea pig?

HOPKO: And the guinea pig - today I received a message from my friend who's taking care of the guinea pig that Nefanya (ph) is missing you. When will you be back? And just, when will you be - constantly - in Ukraine that you could take back the guinea pig?

But, you know, the life has now, after February 24, changed a lot. It seems like the previous life doesn't exist anymore. Like, this normality, when you sit in the kitchen with the daughter, husband, with the guinea pig - probably the saddest moment that you don't know when, actually, you could be reunited.

KELLY: I was going to ask though because you and I have swapped messages all through the war, but the only other time I've actually met you in person was in Kyiv, in a pizzeria before the war. And I wondered if that feels like a totally different life to you. It sounds like the answer's yes.

HOPKO: Like, for all my nation, for millions of Ukrainians, every day we are receiving not just one, not just three, not just five, tragic news that we are losing our friends.

KELLY: Five a day?

HOPKO: Yes.

KELLY: Of people you know?

HOPKO: Yes, yes. And it's really very sad because, like, in March, in Facebook, you could see, like, one news. (Crying) Then, now, in our WhatsApp chats, when people are sending, like, stories like Roman Ratushnyy, 24 years old, was killed, the patriot activist. This is the future of Ukraine. So this is why I cannot understand why the West is so reluctant to help us to win faster. I cannot believe anymore in these bureaucratic excuses that the weapons are delivered, so - was delayed because of some problems.

It's God's purpose that Ukraine is winning and will win the war. So we have to start thinking, what next? And it's not just about regime change. It's about the change of the imperialistic nature of Russian statehood.

KELLY: You said you can't understand why the West is so reluctant to help Ukraine. And I do want to push back a little bit. The U.S. and its allies have helped a lot. Just this week, I think since you've traveled to Washington, the U.S. has just announced an additional billion dollars; more ammo, more artillery, more weapons to defend the coast. The U.S. and its allies are not doing nothing here.

HOPKO: So of course, we are very thankful for assistance, military, humanitarian aid we already received. But if we discussed about a sanctions effect, it takes a long time. The Russian economy starts - not collapsing, but creates a problem for a totalitarian regime. And even with the sixth package of the EU oil or energy embargo, still, there are many loopholes. And weapons - of course, what we are receiving is good, but it's not enough. And when I mention my friends who already died, this is also because of lack of weapons.

KELLY: So what is your reaction when you hear, for example, General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Biden's top military advisor - he has pushed back on complaints from Ukraine that the weapons aren't getting there quickly enough. He says the U.S. and its allies have sent more anti-tank weapons than there are tanks in the world.

HOPKO: So I think it's not just U.S. responsibility. I think it's also Germany and France responsibility. Ukrainian victory is in the interest of global democracy. People in Moldova, they consider Ukraine victory as a chance for them. People in Belarus who are suffering from the Lukashenko regime, they also pray for Ukrainian victory. And people in Taiwan, they really believe that with Ukrainian victory, this will be a powerful signal that China could not attack them. Isn't this all in the U.S. interest?

And if you allow Russia to use nukes to blackmail you, isn't it mean that the countries with the nukes, like North Korea, China and others, will start using the same strategy to blackmail a civilized democratic nation, that they will use nukes if you do not close eyes when China will attack Taiwan? It's about your credibility. Because we in Ukraine, we used to look in the West as a model. We are dying for values which are - some countries in the West are not even ready to provide us with weapons we need. This hypocrisy, this hyperdiplomacy, finally has to stop.

KELLY: As we were saying goodbye, Hopko pulled up a picture on her phone. It was sent to her by friends fighting in eastern Ukraine.

HOPKO: They evacuated this cute dog with one, two, three, four, five...

KELLY: Five puppies.

HOPKO: Yes. And one of them, he asked me to take one of them. So we will take this cute...

KELLY: So you're getting a puppy?

HOPKO: Yes, this puppy. I dream to, finally, meet my daughter, my husband, our guinea pig Nefanya and one small future member of our family.

KELLY: One husky puppy (laughter).

HOPKO: One husky puppy, yes.

KELLY: Hanna Hopko of Ukraine, former MP, pro-democracy activist and mom to a daughter, a guinea pig and, soon, a puppy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.