Ukraine’s Washington Envoy Becomes Wartime Ambassador Overnight

Kyiv’s ambassador pleads for the United States and Europe to do more to help the fight.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, speaks to reporters.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, speaks to reporters.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, speaks to reporters at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington on Feb. 24. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday, Ukrainian ambassador to the United States said her country would fight against Russia’s invasion and top government officials would remain in Ukraine to coordinate a defense against Moscow’s all-out military assault.

In a hastily arranged news conference at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, the ashen-faced ambassador, Oksana Markarova, listed out preliminary reports of battlefield casualties so far in the first major war that region of Europe has seen since World War II.

She pleaded with Washington and other European powers to unleash punishing sanctions on Moscow and continue delivering military equipment to Ukraine’s embattled military, even as she acknowledged the likelihood that no Western troops would directly aid Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

On Thursday, Ukrainian ambassador to the United States said her country would fight against Russia’s invasion and top government officials would remain in Ukraine to coordinate a defense against Moscow’s all-out military assault.

In a hastily arranged news conference at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, the ashen-faced ambassador, Oksana Markarova, listed out preliminary reports of battlefield casualties so far in the first major war that region of Europe has seen since World War II.

She pleaded with Washington and other European powers to unleash punishing sanctions on Moscow and continue delivering military equipment to Ukraine’s embattled military, even as she acknowledged the likelihood that no Western troops would directly aid Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

“We do not expect anyone to fight for us,” Markarova said, flanked by a grim-faced military attaché. “But we expect all the help and all the response the West can send to us.”

“We value all the support. We hear all the support. It’s very important for us,” she added. “But it’s also time to act.”

Markarova, who has been in the job barely a year, has had to rapidly transition from the routine diplomatic duties of an ambassador to a war footing, as her government back home faces the real prospect of buckling under a massive Russian military assault. At the embassy, a posh diplomatic space for social events, adorned in wood paneling and lavish carpets, became a wartime briefing room.

Russian forces launched a coordinated assault across Ukraine from the east, south, and north in the early hours of Thursday morning after months of dismissing U.S. and European warnings that Moscow had plans to invade Ukraine. Under the purported guise of military exercises, Russia has amassed nearly 190,000 forces near Ukraine’s borders in recent months.

Even with weeks of dire warnings of invasion, Markarova—like many U.S. and European officials—expressed shock at the scale, speed, and brazenness of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military offensive.

Asked if she believes Putin intends to topple the Ukrainian government, she demurred. “I cannot tell you what is in Mr. Putin’s mind because I think until yesterday, even though we knew that there were preparations … I don’t think any normal person would believe that something like this, of this magnitude, would actually be carried out in the 21st century against an independent country.”

She said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is still in the country coordinating its defense, though she declined to specify his precise location.

Markarova said Ukraine has formally severed ties with Moscow and urged “all of our friends and allies to do the same.” She called on international organizations to end Russia’s membership, citing “flagrant violations of international law.”

Some Western officials estimated before the invasion that Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, could potentially fall to Russian forces within 72 hours, given the size of the Russian military and the scale of forces amassed on Ukraine’s borders.

Despite the difficult odds, Markarova said Ukraine’s government wasn’t backing down. “We intend to protect our country, we intend to continue fighting, and we intend to protect all the branches of power that we need to be operational in order to effectively defend our country.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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