Ex-Ukrainian govt official leaves family to fight Russia: NPR

In the hours following the invasion of its neighbor by Russia, the Ukrainians mobilized. NPR’s A Martinez interviews Volodymyr Omelyan, a Ukrainian politician, who has joined the ground fight against Russia.


Within hours of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, Ukrainians mobilized and more civilians joined territorial defense brigades. Volodymyr Omelyan is one of them. We first met in Ukraine a few weeks ago at the offices of his political party. Omelyan was Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure from 2016 to 2019. And when we spoke, he talked about past Russian aggressions and how Ukraine survived them. We contacted him again yesterday when he had just enlisted to defend the Ukrainian capital.

VOLODYMYR OMELYAN: I am not a born killer. And I never dreamed of being that kind of guy. But I see that my homeland is in danger, my children and the direct impact of the Russian invasion. And the only ability to stop them all is to unite and fight back. And we understand that Putin will never stop. And he is ready to go further. But someone should stop those Russians, and let it be us.

MARTINEZ: Do you know other people who have done exactly what you plan to do, join the armed forces? And what experience do you all have in this type of situation?

OMELYAN: You know, I was admired today to see military stations open to anyone to join the army or join the militia, because I was in three stations and they were overcrowded. Different kinds of people, different ages came to military stations with one request, give us a gun. We are ready to fight. And we are ready to kill.

MARTINEZ: How close are you to all the Russian air assaults that seem to be happening across Ukraine? We have seen some really disturbing images on TV all day.

OMELYAN: It happened over my head today in the morning. So I woke up to the sound of a missile exploding near my house. So I immediately woke up my family. We packed our bags, having our identity papers, money, pocket money and some small things with us. And we have survived to this day. These missile strikes lasted all day. So it happened every one or three hours for 24 hours of that day. The same is happening all over Ukraine these days. And it will continue for a few more days at most, I hope. Therefore, we also call for prompt support from the West – but these deadly sanctions, which have been promised to Russia if it crosses the border from Ukraine, financial support for Ukraine and above all military support, because we cannot strike this arsenal with only words or good declarations or good commitments.

MARTINEZ: What part of Ukraine, if you can tell, are you in right now? And what do you see and experience around you right now?

OMELYAN: It’s Kyiv.


OMELYAN: It’s Kyiv. Yeah yeah. And it’s also a funny story for me because I was born in Lviv, it’s the western part of Ukraine, which is really nice to be, the safest part of Ukraine. And I was called by a lot of friends of mine who said that to me, listen; drop this stuff. Don’t risk your life. Don’t risk the life of your family. Come back to Lviv. You are a boy from Lviv (ph). And, you know, that’s the very day I realized I belonged in kyiv. And if we lose the capital of Ukraine, there will be no more Ukraine. But we believe that we will fight and we will win.

MARTINEZ: And your family, what does your family think of what you do?

OMELYAN: Certainly, they don’t feel well, especially after that – today’s experience. But still, I hope this war ends short and we try to forget it like a nightmare. But we will always remember that it was Russians who did this to us.

MARTINEZ: Stay safe and all the best. Thanks for joining us.

OMELYAN: Thank you very much. We will win. Thank you.

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