The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Transcript: World Stage: Ukraine with Oksana Markarova

MR. MILLER: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Washington Post Live. My name is Greg Miller. I’m an investigative reporter for The Washington Post, and today we are joined by Ambassador Oksana Markarova of Ukraine, the ambassador, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. She’s with us to talk about the increasingly concerning situation in Eastern Ukraine, the role that the United States, NATO, and its allies are playing or should be playing in this conflict, and the course of this, of these terrible events going forward.

Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

AMB. MARKAROVA: Thank you very much for having me, Greg. It's a pleasure talking to you.

MR. MILLER: And, of course, I want to let everybody in the‑‑remind everyone in the audience that we want to hear from you on these programs and ask that you direct your‑‑you can send questions to us by tweeting at @PostLive.

Ambassador, let's get right started with the news of the day which was the confirmation that Ukrainian missiles had struck the Russian warship Moskva, a flagship vessel for the Russian fleet, in the Black Sea, which now apparently has sunk and is at the bottom of the sea. What can you tell us about what happened with these events and what weapons were used and how Ukraine achieved this?

AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, there is not a lot I can disclose at this stage. I'm sure after we win this war, there will be a lot of information and the details about every aspect of this war, but I just want to repeat what our president says all the time, repeating the quote of another great man, that we will fight in the air, on the ground, in the sea.

The Russian fleet is a very important part of the Russian offensive. It has been deadly on attacks on our Mariupol and Odessa and others. So, of course, you know, Ukrainian armed forces will be fighting everywhere and will be‑‑will try to do everything possible and sometimes impossible in order to defend our country and in order to destroy the enemy equipment, and this has been a remarkable, very important equipment for the Russian armed forces. And we're very glad that it will not be able to shoot at our peaceful‑‑to shoot at our peaceful cities anymore.

MR. MILLER: And, in fact, other ships in that fleet have since moved farther away from the Ukraine coastline as a result, apparently, of the success of that strike.

Ambassador, I mean, these are extraordinary times. They're trying times. Could I just ask you to begin our conversation tonight by walking us through what your day is like, your day‑to‑day life as ambassador to the United States right now? When are you‑‑when are you getting up in the morning? Who are you in communications with? Who are you meeting with among U.S. officials? What is it like for you right now?

AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, getting up is a very interesting concept right now, because when there is night here, there a full day in Kyiv. So sometimes waking up is waking up after waking up couple of times during the night to talk to Kyiv.

But, of course, since the beginning of this attack‑‑because, you know, again, I just want to remind you that the war started in 2014. This is when Russia attacked us. This is when Russia illegally occupied Crimea and part of Donbas, and that's when we also had this very difficult time and lost so many people, more than 15,000 people during the previous eight years of this war. But, of course, after February 24th, our lives have changed forever.

So our embassy here and me personally are working around the clock, 24/7, as any Ukrainian now defending our country. We are diplomats, but we are also soldiers in a broader Ukrainian forces. So we are no different.

So I wake up pretty early trying to be at the embassy no later than 8:00, 8:30, and that's when the day starts, and it ends when it ends, sometimes very late, sometimes a bit early. And then sometimes I have‑‑my day does not end but actually started at 11:00 p.m. here when the morning hits Kyiv.

So it's 24/7, and again, it's not only me. It's all the team here and al diplomats around the world and every Ukrainian.

MR. MILLER: Ambassador, we showed a brief clip at the start of our program tonight in which you were on a television show talking about the changing complexion of the war, the success that Ukrainian forces had in defending the capital city, Kyiv. Of course, now all indications are that Russian forces are turning their attention east to the Donbas, and I wonder if you can update us on that situation and tell us what to expect. How does‑‑how does this new direction from the Russian military alter the complexion of the war and alter the requirements for your country and its forces? How might they fare defending a different part of the country now?

AMB. MARKAROVA: Yes. So, if we go back to February 24th, if you remember the beginning, a lot of analysts predicted that it's going to be a short victorious war for Russia, and a lot of people said it's going to be a couple of days blitzkrieg that Russians will take capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, very quick, and obviously, that blitzkrieg didn't happen because of, you know, the brave president that we have, because of the armed forces that defended fiercely our country and every home and every inch of Ukrainian territory, but also because of Ukrainian people. It's not just the armed forces. It's essentially everyone, from police to rescuers, to ordinary Ukrainians who fight, who fight even on the occupied territories, and who say no to Russian invasion.

So, when that blitzkrieg didn't happen, then we had the first month of really brutal bombing and shelling from the north, from east, from south, after we liberated the areas north of Kyiv, after Russians realized that they cannot actually encircle Kyiv, and they cannot, you know, get Kyiv not only during the first three days but even during the first four weeks. We were able to liberate those areas, and we saw the horrible atrocities.

And, unfortunately, it's not just in Bucha, Irpin, Vorzel, Gostomel, and, you know, it gives me special pain to talk about it. I, of course, talk about it as an ambassador, but this is where my home is, and so many personal stories that, you know, I hear on the phone all the time about the neighbors who were lost, about, you know, the schools where we went. So it's really dramatic, but, you know, the operational force, as military people call it, which we were at right after we drove the Russians from the north of Kyiv‑‑and again, it doesn't mean they stopped shooting at us because, on a daily basis, they keep attacking Ukraine. The city of Mariupol remains encircled for now more than 22 days, without food, water, being constantly attacked and constantly bombed. The city of Kharkiv, city of Chernihiv, I mean, you can pretty much‑‑you know, if I start naming all the cities, all the villages, all the territories that are under attack, the whole program will be just about discussing that.

But right now, what we see and our intelligence as well as other partners and strategic friends' intelligence has confirmed, we see that Russians are regrouping, and we are‑‑and they're‑‑they are preparing for this new bloody face of the war on not only east, but I would say southeast. And they are putting so many BTGs, again, trying to recruit more people, trying to get more of the deadly weapons in order to try to create another victory, so to say, and try to occupy more of Ukraine and kill more of our people.

Of course, we're preparing for that, and of course, we're asking all of our friends and partners to provide us with everything they can as quickly as they can so that this stage of the war, which is going to be very difficult‑‑I mean, it already is very difficult‑‑that we will win it because we need to win it. We see what happens to Ukrainians in the territories where Russians occupy, and regardless of what language do they speak, do we speak, Ukrainians, regardless of what we believe, regardless of, you know, the gender, age, even small babies, the civilians are killed, raped, tortured, exterminated. It's a genocide. So we have to defend our territory because it's an existential fight for us.

MR. MILLER: Ambassador, at the start of your answer just there, you touched on the very personal connection that you have to some of the more horrific scenes that the world is witnessing, and if you'll bear with me, I just wanted to refer our viewers to something you posted on your own Twitter account just a few days ago. You listed the cities Bucha, Irpin, Vorzel. You said you had a‑‑you had a picture of a broken heart. You said, "My home before I moved to D.C. It could have been me on those streets, killed, mutilated, raped, left to die with hands tied behind my back."

These are, of course, gruesome images that the world has been forced to behold. Can you talk as ambassador about how these atrocities have altered the conversations that you're having with the Biden administration, with members of Congress, with U.S. government, and its allies?

AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, first, I want to thank all the journalists that work in Ukraine today from, you know, day number one, risking their lives, and we've lost, unfortunately, so many brave journalists, Ukrainians and international journalists, in Ukraine who are there doing their duty to show the truth to the world. And I think it was very important that everyone who believes in democracy and who believes in free press and who believes in truth actually has a possibility to see that truth with their own eyes.

So, when people saw it, I think it changed perception of a lot of people, because it's one thing to hear about military offenses, especially when Russians are lying about everything. I mean, as they lied in 2014 that they didn't attack us, as they lied that there was some kind of referendum and their military personnel, the green men, were not present during it, as they lied about that it wasn't them occupying Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast in 2014, the same way they kept lying all previous year that they are not going to attack us, and the same way they keep lying now that they are not shooting at civilians.

Now, we all see it, and I think the fact that our friends and partners here in the United States also see it exactly like we see it, I mean, because that's exactly what it is, it allows us to work better together, faster, more efficient. We are very grateful for all the support in especially the area of bringing Russia to justice.

So, as you know, Ukraine has opened our own criminal investigation and not only on the aggression but on individual cases, but we also have 10 more countries that opened their individual investigations and our prosecutor general cooperates with them, provide evidence.

We also have a lot of support from the task force created here in the U.S. on all the gathering the data, investigations, you know, trying to present our cases also properly in all the international courts.

So it actually, you know‑‑I think having, showing this truth, and also seen for what it is allows all of the people who‑‑I wouldn't even say support Ukraine but support the decency and support the principles on which, for example, the United Nations was found on the territorial integrity, on the ability of a country to decide for itself what we want to do. Now we can cooperate better on not only stopping this war and helping us to win it but also bringing into account everyone who is responsible for this, from the leadership of Russia to every commander and every soldier and every financial institution that financed Russia and everyone who kept silence when these atrocities have been committed.

MR. MILLER: And, of course, I can see from the backdrop you've chosen for tonight that this is something that you want to keep in front of viewers, in front of the public, and keep reminding them of what is happening and what's transpiring in Ukraine.

Can I ask two related questions, though? Which are if your government is going to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal and I think you yourself have called for him and other Russian leaders to face a tribunal for war crimes, two things, to what extent does that complicate any prospect of negotiating a peace here; and two, realistically, how do you see that playing out? Where and how might Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, be held accountable for such atrocities?

AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, you know, Ukraine, even though since 2014 attack‑‑again, I'm going back to that because that's when the war started‑‑even though we had all legal rights to return our territories, Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk, because we had all legal rights it was ours, the whole world said it's ours, we never planned any offenses. And we worked day and night on diplomatic solutions on how to restore our territorial integrity, so working through very difficult Minsk processes, working through Normandy format, trying‑‑we established Crimea Platform so that‑‑and 46 countries joined the Crimea Platform so that we can discuss also what would be a diplomatic solution to restore our territorial integrity and return Crimea back home. We always try to negotiate because Ukrainians are very peaceful people. I mean, we are, as we used to say, you know, very peaceful bread growers and start‑uppers, and we really do not like to be at war with anyone. I mean, we just like to discuss everything in negotiations and find a solution and try to find a win‑win situation for everyone.

But, of course, as we saw in the previous couple of centuries and 90 years ago this year, we have the 90‑year sad anniversary of Holodomor, the genocide that was done by hunger when Russians denied us any‑‑you know, under Stalin, you know, another leader that unfortunately Russians still think is a great leader, and a lot of people died. So we see that being peaceful is very great, but you have‑‑we have to be armed also, and we have to be peaceful but able to defend ourselves.

So, even from day one of this brutal aggression, our president said that we are ready to negotiate, and as soon as Russia was ready to, you know‑‑or at least has said they are ready to negotiate, we have sent a group of negotiators to try to negotiate for the green corridors, to try to find a way how we can return to peace.

Now, to negotiate does not mean to surrender, and as our president recently said is that, you know, tragedies and atrocities like we see in Bucha, of course, makes it harder to negotiate, but it's not Ukraine who makes it harder to negotiate. It's Russians who continue to double down and increase the atrocities and continue to destroy our cities, especially in Eastern Ukraine and continue to erase Mariupol essentially from the earth. It's them who instead of focusing and showing at least some goodwill in negotiations are complicating it, but at the same time, Ukraine has‑‑was before and still is ready to negotiate. But we are not ready to surrender.

MR. MILLER: Well, negotiation, let's stay on that subject for just a moment longer, if we could, Ambassador. What concessions could Ukraine be willing to make at this point? Is losing any portion of Ukraine's territory acceptable under any circumstance going forward? I mean, what is on the table? Can you help our viewers understand what might be required here to achieve peace and whether there are any concessions that Ukraine would consider?

AMB. MARKAROVA: This is the question which I usually open in a very undiplomatic format. Why do we have to think what concessions do Ukraine has to make? The situation is very black and white. Ukraine is a sovereign country. Ukraine lives within our recognized borders, something that is sacred to us, to Europeans, to the United Nations Charter. We've never attacked anyone. It was Russia that attacked Ukraine. It was Russia that violated our territorial integrity in 2014, and it's Russia that is attacking us now.

So I think the question is, what is the world ready to do in order to help us to defend Ukraine? And we shouldn't be even discussing what concessions with the land we are ready to make. I think it's the question that all of us have to get together and discuss, you know, what is it that we, all civilized nations, are ready to do in order to restore the world order, in order to show that the UN and the international rule of law still works, because at the beginning, 141 countries in the UN condemned Russia aggression. The International Court made a very clear ruling on March 16th essentially telling Russia to stop any type of military operations they announced and cease fire immediately, and Russia as a member of the Security Council of the United Nations has to do that.

Now, we see on the ground that this is not happening, and we see that Russia continues its war and that war becomes more and more brutal. So I think the question is, is it okay for everyone else that in the 21st century, the independent, peaceful, democratic country like Ukraine can be attacked by a very large neighbor, a nuclear power, and there will be no consequences and nothing that the whole world can do?

And, you know, the example that I like to make, which might not be a very good one, but if somebody is attacked in the middle of the street and by some maniac and that maniac is trying to kill a person, we do not ask the person whether you are ready, you know, to give up a leg or arm, you know, in order to save your life. We call the police. We try to stop it, and we try to punish the person that is an attacker.

So I think this is what we have to discuss. This is what we have to do, and in the meantime, there is no choice for us. I mean, we are under attack already, and we will fight for every inch of our territory and for every person, and that is very important. And, actually, that's the reason why our president from the beginning is also ready to negotiate and why he negotiated since the day he was elected as the president, because for President Zelensky, every life of every Ukrainian is worth fighting for.

MR. MILLER: Thank you, Ambassador.

Let's pick up on something you just said. What is the world prepared to do? What is the world ready to do to help Ukraine defend its territory, defend its way of life?

The United States, the Biden administration just this past week, announced a new package of many hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. This is‑‑I would guess this is the very center of your professional focus right now. Can you talk about what's in that package? Is it enough? What are the biggest gaps right now between what you think Ukraine needs and what it is getting from the United States and its allies?

AMB. MARKAROVA: Thank you. A great question. There are three priorities, if I were to say, on what's‑‑three priorities for my embassy but also for any embassy. Priority number one is, of course, the military support, defensive support, all the weapons that we can get, as we from the beginning said that we do not ask any boots on the ground. We have our very motivated, very patriotic and devoted armed forces who are not only ready, but they're defending us for 51 days now, and they are not getting tired. And they are showing such a bravery under very difficult circumstances, and we actually have lines of people who are signing up for‑‑to be defenders.

So what we need help with is continued supply of all kind of equipment, of course, you know, with the firepower and everything else. So this is what we work with our colleagues at the Department of Defense and others, with the administration, with Department of State, and I have to say even though, of course, we always say we need more because, you know, the enemy is so much bigger and because the enemy is so brutal and the enemy doesn't stop, but we are very grateful, very grateful for all the support. And I have to say that the speed and amount of detail and support that we have from the administration and from everyone in the United States, from every American is remarkable.

The second priority is sanctions, and this is very important, as important sometimes as the help with the weapons on the battlefield. A, because Russia has to be punished for what it does, but second because we believe that sanctions, especially the painful sanctions, will be able to stop Russia. And, you know, we‑‑there was a lot of efforts and a lot of actions that have been made by the United States. The U.S. is leading in the sanction efforts with the embargo on oil and gas, sanction of financial institutions, providing very effective export controls and export sanctions, but there is a lot still we can do together. We believe all Russian banks should be sanctioned, that every‑‑all the sectoral sanctions, especially for the industries that contribute to this war machine should and could be sanctioned. There should be personal sanctions. I mean, there have been quite a number already implemented, but there should be more for everyone who takes decisions to continue this war to attack and to do‑‑to commit and allow all of these atrocities.

And the third big part is all other kind of support, support for Ukraine, financial, humanitarian, energy support. Because, I mean, again, I know any war is horrible, but we already have more than 13 million Ukrainians who had to flee from the war zones and who had to lose for some of them‑‑many of them actually lost their houses, homes, and loved ones. Out of those 13 million, 4.6 already outside of Ukraine, primarily women and children, but there are also a big portion, more than 8 million, who are IDPs inside Ukraine. And it's a full‑fledged war. Russia is specifically targeting not only hospitals, schools, and maternity homes in residential areas but also our companies, the grain reserves, the infrastructure. So devastation that has been inflicted on Ukraine during this past 51 days is great, and in order to sustain the effort, in order to continue fighting, we need also all kinds of support.

So I know it's a lot to ask, and I know we appreciate everyone and especially the United States for being such a true friend and strategic‑‑strategic friend and ally to Ukraine right now, but I think it's also that, you know, the majority of people here and in Europe understand that this fight is much bigger than just fight for Ukraine, that this is a truly, unfortunately, 1939 moment. And, if we do not stop this autocratic regime, Russian regime, while it's in Ukraine, then this could very well be one of the great wars which we all swore in 1941 never again, which we all put all these international structures and all the international rules to prevent from something like this happening again.

MR. MILLER: Ambassador, this has been a fascinating conversation. I really want to thank you for spending time with us, with our viewers, with our readers, helping us better understand this conflict and the challenges that you face and that we all face going forward. Thank you so much for being with us.

AMB. MARKAROVA: Thank you very much. Thank you, and again, thank you for being the agents and the warriors of the light and truth. Without, you know, truth being known to everyone, it would be very difficult to‑‑in this current world with all the disinformation and other campaigns and fake news to see what the truth is, and it's very important that there are brave people like all your colleagues who are doing it on a daily basis. Thank you.

MR. MILLER: Well, I heartily agree with you there, and what you've just said reminds me of a certain slogan: "Democracy dies in darkness."

I want to thank all of our viewers who have been with us today for this important program. To check out upcoming interviews, please head to WashingtonPostLive.com to sign up and register and stay on top of all of these news‑breaking developments through WashingtonPost.com.

Thanks very much.

[End recorded session]

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