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Ukrainian activist, former politician and mom looks back on a year of war

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As this year has unfolded, I have kept up a running conversation with a fellow mom named Hanna Hopko. I first met and interviewed Hanna in January in Kyiv, Ukraine. She was convinced there would be no war. Well, I left Kyiv. We stayed in touch, and I called her again on February 24, the day of the Russian invasion.

HANNA HOPKO: Hello?

KELLY: Hello, Hanna. This is Mary Louise Kelly in Washington. Hi.

HOPKO: Hi. Hi.

KELLY: Hi.

HOPKO: Hi, Mary Louise. Hi. How are you?

KELLY: By that point, Hanna had evacuated her daughter. She and her husband and the family's pet guinea pig had gone into hiding because Hopko, a pro-democracy activist and former member of Ukraine's parliament, suspected she was on a Russian kill list. When I caught her, she sounded exhausted, but not afraid.

Are you scared?

HOPKO: No. It's not time to be scared. Putin has to be scared because he is a little gangster with a heart full of fear.

KELLY: A little gangster with a heart full of fear. Well, I have met Hanna Hopko twice since then here in Washington. She flies over to meet members of Congress and the Biden administration to ask for more weapons to fight Russia. As 2022 comes to a close, a year that has upended her life and her country, I wanted to interview her again, and I reached her today at a hotel in Warsaw, Poland, and asked her reaction to the visit Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, just paid to Washington, a visit during which President Biden promised more aid for Ukraine.

HOPKO: I was very proud of seeing two leaders, President Biden and President Zelenskyy, because it's about strategic partnership. To protect freedom and the victory of Ukraine will define the world in which our children, grandchildren will live. It's not about standing with Ukraine as long as it takes. It's about winning with Ukraine faster.

KELLY: You've said this every time I've interviewed you. You've said, give us more. Give us more faster. We need more weapons. Fight with us, and help us win quickly. I mean, President Biden - not only did they announce 1.8 billion in military aid. They're asking Congress for many times that and now the Patriot missile system. Do you feel like America is fighting with you, is standing with you?

HOPKO: I'm very thankful to American people. I'm also very thankful to presidential administration and Congress bipartisan support. But my message is that Russian strategy of terror which we were warning about from spring - so now in winter, we are facing the problems if we were received anti-air defense system more in summer. So now we would not focus on generators and how to protect our nuclear power plants. Mary Louise, from the first time we met in Kiev in January, I lost a lot of friends who sacrificed their lives defending freedom of the free world and Ukraine. So time matters for us. It's not about number of weapons we already received. It's about how to receive at the level when it would be enough that the best and the brightest people of Ukraine will not be killed. We want to save lives. So this is why we need more weapons and even more.

KELLY: Talk to me, Hanna, about what life is like in Ukraine right now. The headlines - we hear that it is very cold, that a lot of people do not have electricity, do not have water. What is life like compared to this time last year? I know you were just in Ukraine a couple days ago.

HOPKO: Can you imagine your life when you cannot take a shower - for weeks to not take a shower and somehow survive but when there is no electricity, no heating system and poor internet connection? For me, it's not a problem. But for elderly people, it's a huge problem. They cannot use elevators. And they cannot psychologically afford all this Russian terror when they weaponized winter and want to freeze all Ukrainians.

KELLY: Weaponize winter - is that what you just said?

HOPKO: Yes.

KELLY: That Russia is weaponizing winter.

HOPKO: Yes.

KELLY: I want to ask how your daughter is and Nafanyah, her guinea pig.

HOPKO: I'm thankful to God that my daughter is alive. But for the last 10 months, I saw her in summer for seven days - 10 months, one week of seeing my daughter.

KELLY: Because you have been working and you're trying to keep her somewhere safe, in a way.

HOPKO: Safe. And also I felt this moral duty. When my daughter is in safe place, I have to help my country to win faster.

KELLY: How do you explain to your daughter what is happening in Ukraine, and what questions does she ask?

HOPKO: So today is the Day of Diplomats and also St. Anna Day. And my daughter sent me in WhatsApp, like, greetings and saying, Mom, I believe victory comes faster and we will be all together in a peaceful Ukraine. So can you imagine that, from 2013 to 2022, my daughter is living in the environment when she and her mom in constant fight from Maidan in 2013 going back to...

KELLY: The revolution. Yeah.

HOPKO: And it was - the revolution. And it was very dangerous for sure.

KELLY: And she's how old now?

HOPKO: In March, she will celebrate her 12 years old birthday.

KELLY: Yeah. She sounds just like you. She wants to fight. She wants to win. She wants a peaceful Ukraine.

HOPKO: Look. In 4 years old, she asked me, Mom, if Putin dies, you will finally stay home and not leave me?

KELLY: Yeah. And before I let you go, I don't think you've told us. Is the guinea pig OK?

HOPKO: Oh, guinea pig. Oh, I haven't seen our guinea pig from August, when guinea pig moved from outside Kyiv from my friends to western Ukraine. And I'm sure if guinea pig stays with me for all this nonsense and hear all my talks about weapons, tougher sanctions, he would finally start speaking very loudly and saying, like, Hanna, please. What should I do? Maybe I should organize a campaign worldwide asking all guinea pigs to come to key capitals because I don't want to be freeze. I want to - finally to be all reunited. So even guinea pig became an advocate for weapons. Look, I have this sense of humor, but the situation is really very serious.

KELLY: Hanna, I want to say thank you for talking with us, with me all this year. You've really helped me and, I think, a lot of Americans understand the stakes - what is at stake for your country. And I wonder, is there anything you want to say to Americans who are listening right now?

HOPKO: I want to say to all American friends, honestly, thank you because without your support, without your humanity, morality, without being with us, you Americans should be proud of your empathy because we are spiritual brothers. And we will win because of your very big hearts. It's not just a fight for Ukrainian territorial integrity. It's about being human beings.

KELLY: Hanna Hopko. She's the former head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in Ukraine's parliament. She now chairs the Democracy in Action Conference. Hanna, thank you. Merry Christmas.

HOPKO: Merry Christmas.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMAN OMARI SONG, "MOVE TOO FAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.