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Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S. describes the current state of the country

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're now joined by Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova.

Good morning, Ambassador Markarova. Thanks very much for being with us.

OKSANA MARKAROVA: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: We just heard that heartbreaking report about the people who were still in - trapped under that steel mined (ph) in Mariupol. Do you know - is there hope for negotiation to get them out safely, civilians and soldiers, for that matter?

MARKAROVA: Well, you know, we welcome every successful piece of evacuation. And the joint efforts of our president and the U.N. secretary-general produced some, but still more needs to be done. Unfortunately, we see that Russia did not carry out the cease-fire regime as promised and continues heavily bombing not only Azovstal but actually destroyed 95% of Mariupol. I just want to remind that, you know, as we see in this stage of devastation now in Mariupol, that the city has been encircled for the past two months without food, water. The majority of buildings, civilian buildings are completely destroyed. And despite all of the pleas of all international friends and allies to create the safe passages, just to get the civilians out but also get the wounded soldiers out - are being ignored completely by Russia.

SIMON: I am moved to ask you - you went to Indiana University, I gather. What do you say to Americans in Bloomington and Terre Haute, right and left, who say, look; I'm sorry for what's happening in Ukraine, but we have problems here in the U.S., and we can't pour all of this money into someplace overseas?

MARKAROVA: Well, I want to start first with saying thank you to all American people and people of Indiana who I spent wonderful two years with. I know how good they are, and I know how much they care about values that both Americans and Ukrainians believe in - freedom, democracy, being able to decide for yourself what we want to do. And these principles that we all together believe in were also put in place after the World War II. And it's very symbolic that tomorrow, we all will be talking about the 77th anniversary of the end of that horrible war that we put into our international rules and laws, that something like this can never happen again, that an autocratic regime cannot attack another country. And that's what happened in Ukraine.

MARKAROVA: So it's very important for all of us to try to stop Russia in doing this because it's not only defending Ukraine. It's also defending our common values. And as President Biden said, you know, this amount, this money that U.S. is providing us with for defense is a great investment in the fight for democracy and freedom. So I know it's a lot to ask. And I just want to thank again and ask for more because this fight is very important for all of us who believe in freedom and democracy.

SIMON: Ambassador, what would - I'll chance to use the word victory. What would a victory be for Ukraine? Withdrawal of Russian troops, a surrender, EU membership? What would end the conflict from your point of view?

MARKAROVA: Well, thank you very much for that question. I think it's very important. Russia attacked us eight years ago, unprovoked, no reason just because we wanted to be free and live peacefully in our country. Right now, it's a full-fledged war on all territory of Ukraine. And the victory is for us to defend our country. The devastation is already great. So many cities are completely destroyed. So many people we have lost, the best of us, people who are fighting on the front, people who are civilians in this areas. So the victory for us would be to - for Russians to stop the war first, to stop the aggression, get out from our country and for us to restore our territorial integrity and sovereignty. So, you know, we are not ready to surrender. We are not ready to live under occupation. We Ukrainians know well, too well, you know, what happens to us when the Russians occupy us.

SIMON: Would you insist on membership in the EU?

MARKAROVA: Well, this is something that Ukrainians aspire to do. This is something that is...

SIMON: NATO?

MARKAROVA: ...In our constitution, you know? As you know, we are - we want to return to our European family and be part of the European community but also this trans-Atlantic family. So, yes, it's something that we very much believe in. Of course, it requires our friends' and partners' will to accept us also. But as you recently saw, the European Union, despite this horrible war that Russia waged against us again, is also acting very fast on our applications. And it signals clearly that the European Union would like to see us in the future as a part of European Union.

SIMON: And would you - we've just got half a minute left - insist on the return of Crimea?

MARKAROVA: Well, Crimea was, is and always will be Ukraine. We will never agree to this brutal aggression, and we will never agree to what Russia did to us. We will use all the diplomatic tools to return it.

SIMON: Even if it means continuing the war?

MARKAROVA: Well, we are not the ones who started the war, so we would like to stop the war.

SIMON: Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, joined us via Skype.

Ambassador, thanks very much for being with us.

MARKAROVA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.