Mar 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

A message from the women of Ukraine

Ukrainian MP shakes hands with Rob Portman
Ukrainian MP and former Vice Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze shakes hands with Sen. Rob Portman. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Five Ukrainian women, all members of parliament, left Kyiv this week for Washington — but only long enough to ask in person for more help before heading back into danger.

Driving the news: "We are mothers. We are MPs. We are volunteers. We are coordinators. And we are fighters," Ukrainian MP Maria Ionova told a group of journalists on Wednesday after meetings with lawmakers and Pentagon and State Department officials. "We do not have time to be diplomatic and must be very direct with you."

Why it matters: With most men ages 18-60 restricted from leaving the country due to military service requirements, Ukrainian women have played an outsized role in shuttle diplomacy over the course of the month-long war.

  • They were joined on Capitol Hill by Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova.
  • The delegation also plans a stop in Canada before returning to Ukraine.

Details: The delegation's in-person visit to Capitol Hill for meetings with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and members of key committees served as an in-person twist on the powerful video appeals by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

  • He's been widely praised for unlocking new sanctions and aid commitments with his emotional addresses to Western leaders.
  • Some of the women in the delegation represent Zelensky’s party; others do not. All are strongly pro-Western.

Ukrainian MP Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze said she's cried once since the war began — on the plane from Warsaw to D.C. — because she was distressed about leaving the fight: "We want to be there with our people."

  • On their first morning in Washington, Klympush-Tsintsadze said that she and other members of the delegation began "trembling" when they heard a fire engine pass. It reminded them of the air raid sirens back home.

The big picture: The women were blunt in their criticism of the Biden administration and other Western governments for hand-wringing over how to transfer advanced weaponry without provoking Russia.

  • "This distinction between defensive and offensive weaponry is, frankly speaking, humiliating," Ukrainian MP Anastasia Radina told a small group of journalists at a session convened by the German Marshall Fund. "In our situation, all weapons are defensive because we are defending our land."
  • "Sometimes we hear that some issues are on the table and are being discussed," Radina said. "Let me be clear on that: Issues on the table is not an action. Issues on the table do not help on the ground. We are past the point of another round of discussions in a pre-war, bureaucratic manner."

The lawmakers also detailed the specific requests they had made to members of Congress, including the transfer of Soviet-era fighter jets from Poland.

  • "I remember back in 2015, when President Poroshenko was addressing Congress, he said that we cannot fight back with blankets," Klympush-Tsintsadze said.
  • "We cannot fight back right now even with Javelins. Because we cannot gain back our territory with that type of weaponry."

Be smart: The lawmakers took a hard line on the Russia-Ukraine peace talks, summing them up as a "smokescreen" by Vladimir Putin to buy time for the Russian military to regroup. They said "neutrality" for Ukraine is "not an option," underscoring how difficult it could be for Zelensky to sell concessions to the Ukrainian public.

  • "For us, there is only one way out of the war — and this is for Ukraine to win," Radina said.
  • "Politicians have to be honest: Values, or price?" Ionova said. "Oil, or kids' lives? Heating homes, or raping women and children and civilians who just want to be independent?"
  • Klympush-Tsintsadze said: "We are planning our lives right now not by weeks, not by a month, but by hours and days."
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