INTERVIEW: “They want us dead and we want to live.”

March 2, 2022

SmartHER With Inna Sovsun

A member of Ukraine’s Parliament, professor, and mother, Inna Sovsun, joins SmartHER News to tell us what life is like during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Follow Inna on social media on Instagram and Twitter


hello from the heartland my name is jenna and this is smarter news news when it matters and why it matters our smarter series features unique people who help us think and live smarter

hi everybody it is the second day of march 2022 and the world is just changing so fast i think it’s appropriate to time stamp when i’m actually recording this for you because we could see a flurry of headlines that could take our stories the many stories that we’re watching in a lot of different directions i wanted to jump on real quick before this interview to talk to you a little bit about how it came about in fact it was one of you that reached out to me and said hey i think you should speak to this lawmaker in ukraine and you sent a picture of ina sofsun sitting with her laptop on a wood floor next to a gun and i looked at that picture and i thought hmm i’m going to need to know a little bit more about that and as i dug into a little bit more about ena i found out that not only is she a parliamentarian in the ukrainian government she’s also a professor she’s also a mother and you make the best producers hands down and your suggestions really mean a lot to me i actually reached out to ina directly and was able to connect with her and that’s how we were able to pull this interview together it’s really a tribute to you and to this community of smarter news so i just want to reiterate how grateful i am for your support and how much you mean to actually building a solution in news this is a very interesting situation covering this story this war in in ukraine without having a lot of experience on the ground at all or really having a complete understanding of the way that the ukrainian government works and i want to be really honest with you about that because i haven’t dug deep into the way that this new ukrainian government is working and the different roles in the different parties and and how it’s all coming together and listen just think of yourself parachuting if you were an alien parachuting into capitol hill in washington dc and you’re able to speak to one lawmaker about a major conflict that’s happening in america you know who you just run across or who you’re able to pick is going to have a very different view than others you know it’s going to be different talking to let’s say house speaker nancy pelosi and senator ted cruz you’re going to get a very different perspective so as i was preparing for this interview with ina i was trying to look through a little bit more of her political background to really understand her stance on what she thinks about the future of ukraine and as i was preparing all of that i realized i just need to step back and do something different which is this this is a breaking news environment we want to know what is the experience of the ukrainians what is it actually like for them on the ground we feel like we know because we’re seeing a lot on social media but to hear it directly from someone there and now in the capital city of kiev is really valuable and i’m so grateful for ina and her time and her generosity because this is you’ll hear her say in her interview that this is her her mission this is something she feels she can contribute which is talking to press all around the world to give an idea of what’s actually happening inside the country so we didn’t get into what i typically would like to do which is to dig a little deeper about well what is the future of ukraine is it a democratic state what about corruption there to really kind of unpack if we can well why why isn’t ukraine part of nato and kind of some of these questions that you you have really brought up that are really important i really stayed on the personal side and i hope that this is the beginning of a relationship with ina where we can continue to follow her and her family through this experience because she’s really on the forefront of building a new ukraine and that’s what you will hear her talk about that is her goal and that’s why she says vladimir putin is targeting them so without further ado i want you to hear from ina directly a parliamentarian a professor and a mother

ina it is just after 8 30 in the morning here in texas where i’m talking to you i’m not out on the street but i could tell you what’s happening out there there’s a lot of traffic people are getting their coffee they’re dropping their kids off at school they’re trying to get to work that’s what’s happening here it’s just after 4 30 in the afternoon in ukraine where you are what’s happening there well the streets are pretty empty we are about to go into curfew uh so the coffee starts in actually half an hour so people will have to stay at home or in shelters as they were and uh the streets are extremely empty that is actually a bit scary because cave is such a busy city it’s actually just torn with it’s it’s actually amazing uh there is information that the kiev is the third city in terms of traffic all over the world so so it’s extremely busy city uh but right now it’s just empty you can travel around the city very fast i did that yesterday it was driving around and it’s just very empty people would just go out to buy some food in the supermarkets and then go back home which is basically basically very basic infrastructure is functioning and there are lots of checkpoints all over the city uh where people just build those like like uh they put the cement blocks or anything else uh do on the roads in the city and they’re checking like every time you go through the checkpoint you have to show your id and they ask you some things like where you’re going what are you doing so that’s what it is so you are a parliamentarian you’re a government official that’s that’s one of your many jobs you’re also a professor you’re also a mother a mother of a nine-year-old just tell us a little bit about your back story i want to hear about everything that you’re seeing and what this last week specifically has been like for you but just tell us a little bit about how you got to the position that you’re in right now how did you get involved in government so i i am a teacher in the university since 2010 or 11 i really have to remember that over 10 years now but back in 2014 after the revolution of dignity i was uh again teaching in the university and then also running a think tank dedicated to education policy so after the revolution of dignity in 2014 i was invited to join the government as the first deputy minister of education and science of ukraine i did serve in that position in uh for two and a half years uh it was a very difficult period in ukraine’s life or at least we thought so at the time because russia did attack ukraine and started the war in donbass and annexed crimea so that was the exact period when i was serving in the government at the time then i did leave the government and i went back to the university i was studying i was teaching in the university i did go to the united states i i was a fulbright scholar at uc berkeley uh so i went from berkeley as i’m saying hello and then i got back and actually a week after after i got back from the us actually even three days after that the newly elected president zelinski to solve the parliament and called for new elections and given my background in the ministry of education i was offered a position in the party list of a liberal pro-european party of holos we are the smallest party in the parliament uh but um well uh we are there and we do have a constituency to represent we are an amazing bunch of people who like i think half of our mps in the body have been educated abroad one time or another and uh um yeah we’re now currently uh in the parliament we are in opposition party so we are not part of the government in the sense that we are the majority party um but at this point it doesn’t really matter because i think the whole parliament is just staying united against this invasion i saw recently you put that on social media that that you support your president that in previous times maybe you differed with him on a variety of different topics but at this moment you’re you’re united i want people to realize your background because you’re part of this new leadership of this of what we what we maybe can call and you can tell me what’s the right way to discuss it of a new ukraine of the next chapter of ukraine coming after what happened in 2014 so you’re really on the forefront of that and now now you’re here where russia is attacking the country and i have so many questions for you on that but what have the last several days been like for you i think it feels it still feels surreal um like trying to grasp this new reality so uh so many things have changed for myself the moment i heard the first bombs exploding over the city which was 4 30 in the morning so i heard the bombs i went to to check the news i saw that putin announced the war against ukraine the first thing i did i i called my my ex-husband because we did have an arrangement with him that in case some war starts or something like that starts he will take care of our son so he did take our son to the west of ukraine to the relatives over there and we knew that i wouldn’t be able to leave because i’m a member of parliament so so i cannot leave even though typically women would take their kids back to the west uh but i i knew i would have to stay here and keep so the first thing you are thinking like oh my god i need to take care of my son so so so my ex-husband did that then the second thought was okay i have to double check what myself as an mp have to do so there was an emergency session of parliament that i had to get to and uh then uh like like just and then after the emergency session when we were declaring uh the state of war in ukraine which was obvious at that time uh there were some other things to take care of like we were provided with guns with assault rifles which is again extremely unusual for myself like if a week ago someone told me i would be supporting the president and i will have a gun i would not believe that trust me this is so much not part of my character but it is the reality as it is right now so what after that uh we were just trying to figure out some both the logistics who was doing what and then so on and then by the time i was i was free to go home i realized that i lived north of the city and i’ve heard the news that the russians might be invading from the north so i realize it’s probably not the best idea to go back to my place and some friends suggested i stay with them here in the city but they have a private house so in case we hear their loads we don’t have to go like 10 15 flows down we can just go down the basement so um i’ve been staying with my friends i haven’t been home i haven’t seen my son for a week now my boyfriend rejoined the army which i expected would have happened because his um has been in the army before my dad joined the territorial defense unit sir uh which are patrolling the streets and i’m doing basically this for for the whole day i’m doing the interviews because i do believe that in this situation probably the most useful thing i can be doing for my people is just explaining to the world what is happening here in ukraine we appreciate it very much i think there is so much power in in one story and that’s why we’re we’re honored to have you a couple questions for you on this what what has it been like to go into the basement have you been going into the basement of this other house regularly what what has what is that like um so you get a mess typically you would get a message on on your telegram channel where they say like like uh uh alert a lot a lot so just put your your clothes on your your jacket and you just go down the basement again in my case it’s since i’m staying in this it’s a private house so it’s just downstairs so it’s like i don’t have to run too far and also it’s not overcrowded but it’s been actually so much worse for so many other people because uh for many people i think i’ve heard the number today that over 20 000 people ukraine in kiev alone have actually been staying in their metro stations so they have basically just put the mattresses on and they’re staying there with their kids for those who didn’t who couldn’t leave the city so they’re staying there with their kids and and some people are in bom bankers specifically designated ones uh some people are in the shelters some people have been living in the cars in the underground parkings uh so so that is uh how it is and so i actually do consider myself lucky because i was invited to stay with the with the friends over here otherwise i would have been spending the nights in in overcrowded bunker spaces uh because we do hear those alerts pretty often they do turn them off but it’s still happening how scary is that how scary just in general how scary is it so uh again i remember the first explosions i heard and your heart starts bumping so much right now uh right right away uh but then you’re just like okay it didn’t hit here so what i need to do is go back to my work so i think the first feeling of this being extremely scared has changed right now and what i’m seeing like all over ukraine all my friends and my former students and everything else is that everyone is just so determined to do something useful so people are trying to find ways to be useful like i’m in this place that i’m staying it’s actually a very weird situation because some of my former students are staying here as well because yeah well some some weird connections it doesn’t really matter but some of my former students whom i was teaching i think was three four years ago uh great students they were studying lower they were very well motivated and so on uh now we ended up living in the same house uh but what they are doing and i’m just hearing that like like because they’re sitting like in the next room over there is their coordinating humanitarian aid from europe and i asked them like why how did you get into that and they said like well we had a friend who had a father who was serving in the embassy so he suggested we should start doing something and now they have this whole scale operation and i’m just hearing the names of the country just just on the back of over there like oh we have this in italy hey who is our contact person in poland hey uh who is our truck driver in london who is delivering something and and this just happened in a week so those two guys that get regal a girl and a boy uh they were lawyers working as as lawyers like young lawyers and junior positions but now they’re coordinating this this massive operation and this is basically what is happening all over the country people are just finding ways of being useful which have a connection whichever you can contribute you’re just doing that where is your gun now is it by you do you always have it uh i think it’s somewhere downstairs um i’d rather take control of that yeah do you do you feel like you know how to use it do you feel have you mentally prepared yourself for for potentially having to use it so the funny thing is that my boyfriend has always been saying like i need to teach you how to shoot and i was always like i know i don’t really like guns i like i would never have to use that and so on uh so i never learned how to use that but we were given like very basic instruction like you do this and you do that i i don’t know what does it mean to be mentally prepared to shoot a person i’ve never done that in my life again i’m university professor so you can imagine but um right now um i was thinking that if there is someone who just show up at our door uh we will have no other way because i’m um because we are on our land and this is uh like they have no right to be here uh so we will have to protect ourselves because they are a danger to us so uh yes we will have to use the gun probably that i hope that well that would not be me because probably i’m not the best that aiming but there are several people with the with each group that i’m staying in right now who do have experience with the gun so who would be able to use that your conversation sounds a lot with your boyfriend since like my conversations with my husband who also is is former military and i didn’t grow up around weapons it’s not something that i think about as using a gun he’s like you need to you need to know how to use it and so it’s it’s interesting how many you know how many miles separate us and that’s a very similar experience in that particular way and i’m sure i could never imagine being in the situation that you’re in right now and now this is the reality for you what is this like as a as a mother uh that’s the most difficult part because um it was always like i’ve been given so many interviews and i was explaining that because people were asking like are you scared and i said like no i haven’t cried once apart from one case when i saw the lines in the military recruitment offices in in kf and many other cities there were lines of people who were signing up to volunteer to defend our country that was the only time i actually cried until yesterday because yesterday i got a phone call from my son and i haven’t seen him for about six days six days as of yesterday and i knew i like i did i was too busy just calling him so we were just texting to each other but uh or he just wanted to talk to me and i i knew i could have called him before but i knew that would just make me cry and feel sad so i just tried to stay organized to sell to say putin so i just texted him but yesterday he called and he said like hey how are you and i well we just chatted and he said like when shall we see each other and i didn’t know how to answer that question so that did break me down for a couple of minutes that did make me cry because the very idea of thinking like i don’t know when i will be able to see my son again or ever for that matter and and that is just um yeah that is difficult it is extremely difficult i know i’m doing that for him i am i’m doing that for him for him to be able to live in this country and to to to help build it um but it is still very heavy and then of course being a university professor i do make sure that he does his math that is a separate issue so so that’s what i’m doing like i’m texting my ex-husband like like did he do his math like is he okay and then martin that’s the name of my son he said okay i did my math just just let me play so also but i am extremely happy that uh he is not experiencing those explosions in the air he will not have this uh fear uh like thousands uh hundreds of thousands of other ukrainian kills will i just read this uh report a short report yesterday about those kids living in the shelters in the bunkers and the report was named after a quote from a six-year-old girl who asked her mom mom how many minutes is it till the end of the war and that is just a heartbreaking to hear and i was thinking like oh my god thanks god i don’t have to talk like that to my son he’s not like living in the basement or in the shelter on the underground station but i do believe that this is going to be so so it is such a traumatic experience for so many kids and then of course uh in addition to that to make things even worse uh we do have 16 confirmed casualties among children as of yesterday the numbers are yet upcoming i’m i’m afraid the numbers would be bigger and then just before we we started this conversation i got a message from my assistant and she text he texted me and said have you seen the story in in harkev where a woman gave birth to the twins and they uh yesterday and today both the woman and her husband the father of the kids were killed in the bombardments in harkev so those two twins are left orphans just one day after they were born so uh that is something that i can’t even comprehend and that is why i am trying to stay put because i realize i might be uncomfortable i’m missing my son so much but i just can’t imagine the the the the like what are those parents of the kilter children are feeling uh what uh the lives of those two orphans will be that is just uh terrifying how do you explain this to your child that’s a question that so many american families are asking themselves how do they explain the situation in ukraine in the news to their children how do you do it to yours so uh well he knew we are at war with russia so he didn’t know about that because we are it were for eight years now uh we probably were not going into that many details uh but he didn’t know that russia did attack ukraine eight years ago nah and right now uh we are just telling him that uh the war is here but we are not we try not not to give him too many details uh uh because um we really don’t want him to be scared for my life uh given that i am staying in kiev here um so again i think it is a bit easier for myself because he is not in this territory where which is being bombarded so he’s not experiencing those bombs right away now he’s just uh yeah he’s a bit better but other parents i’ve heard the experience uh they are trying to explain to the kids that uh there is this bad guy who decided that he doesn’t want us to exist and we have to fight back and i think in this in those narratives we are using to tell to our kids we are putting great emphasis on uh how we are trying to protect them because that is what kids need they do need our protection so uh well again not my own experience because my experiences is slightly uh easier probably in that sense about i think uh parents who are trying to explain and explain what the ukrainian army is doing to defend them and how their parents are willing to put you know they will do everything possible to protect their kids what are we not seeing we’re seeing so much just through social media or through we do have major television networks that are on the ground in ukraine but we’re not ukrainian and we didn’t drive around the streets like you did yesterday you know we’re hearing all sorts of reports about what’s happening and what’s not what do you think outsiders are not seeing that we should know about uh i’m not sure to what extent that is not seen but but there are two major things that i would like everyone to know is first of all is that um putin did attack ukraine claiming that he is coming to liberate us from the nazi regime which is well nonsense look at me do i look like a nazi but but also he was claiming that he’s coming here to liberate the russian speaking uh people here in ukraine but i’m from harkev i’m a ukrainian speaker but most of my friends in hardcave are russian speakers and they are sending me messages and my former classmates with whom i haven’t been in touch for like 20 years since i graduated but uh they all sent me a message i said like please please just don’t leave us here please protect please make sure that we kick them out of our country and they’re sending me messages in russian but they are asking for any help possible they are praying for the ukrainian army and actually the ukrainian army up there is doing a pretty good job despite the heaviest bombardments of harukev which pains me to see again my native city uh bombs falling like five minutes away from my school but where people over there are so resilient and they are sending me messages like we shall stay strong just uh don’t give up and we shall not surrender and those are mainly russian-speaking people so so this is important to understand is that putin is not liberating anyone here putin is just attacking civilian population for a simple reason that he doesn’t like ukraine to exist his claims that he doesn’t like uh ukraine joining nato or wanted to join nato are also false because uh let me remind everyone else everyone listened to this that he did attack ukraine in 2014 when we were officially a non-allied state we didn’t announce that we want to join nato we were officially non-allied state and that was part of our constitution so it’s actually it’s actually vice versa we say now that we want to join nato precisely because putin did attack us not the vice versa because his narrative is just completely false he’s saying like we want to join nato and that is why he attacked us but it’s actually completely different so that is the first thing that i want everyone listening to this to understand and the second thing i want everyone to know is this um ukrainians are extremely uh resilient and they are fighting so much there are so many stories of just regular folks who are fighting back and i’m just looking at those people and thinking like oh my god where did they get that courage i’m seeing pictures of people attacking um russian tanks with their bare hands i’m seeing uh there was this video i think the third day of war with a guy who was just driving on the road in the countryside and then there were three russian tanks who apparently got lost because the first couple of days of war with the ukrainians did because they realized that the russians do not have any electronic devices so they yeah don’t ask me that that’s about the preparation of the russian army but but people in the tanks they don’t know exactly the directions where they need to go to so they had to find ways based on the road signs so what the ukrainians did they took down the road signs so the russians driving in tanks they would just get lost and then they would start asking for directions and people would just yell at them this and so there was this one guy who who did see three russian tanks so why like in the middle of nowhere there were no russian tanks anywhere else just three tanks like in the middle of nowhere and he uh like he left his car he started he started a videotaping on his phone and he came up to say to them and said like hey say something in ukrainian and they couldn’t say something so he said like why are you here and they said like oh get out of here just don’t film us just we shall not be shooting you just don’t film us and he started quoting the ukrainian constitution saying that according to the constitution of ukraine i am allowed to do this so i’m going to continue doing that we want you out of our country he was standing like in front of three tanks with several heavily armed soldiers and he was just doing that that is just the example of courage that i couldn’t imagine i would be seen and then there were also of course other stories um like can you tell us can you tell us a story about your father i think that’s yeah oh that is like i said again i still can’t believe that is happening so my dad the first day of what he did take my mom to the west of ukraine to the family uh and i was thinking that he would stay there and i was like okay so my son is safe my parents are safe my boyfriend is with the military i expected that to happen don’t like it but it is but top for you know of life uh and then my mom called me six in the morning and uh she said like you know uh dad is coming back to cave i said like what the hell like like why why should i why and she said like well call him and talk to him so i did and i asked him like dad why are you coming back and he took a pause and he said and a quote i’m coming back to defend the capital of ukraine the city of kiev and i was like dad you are 61 years old he does have military experience because he was sober in afghanistan back in the soviet times but still he’s 61 years old he has trouble uh walking because he has sick knees so he does no sorry is that okay if the lights absolutely yeah that’s absolutely fine someone downstairs uh so so he did have a uh he has sick knees so i was like dad what will you do like you hardly walk and he said well that means i will crawl but i will be defending the city actually as we speak i haven’t been in touch with him for 24 hours his phone is off i think in the area where he is there is problems with connections i am very much concerned about the fact that his phone is off but i hope he is uh okay and he’s just um yeah not able to talk well we we hope and and pray that’s the case too and and it gives us an idea of the family that you’re from and your roots you know and that’s something i know you have to run for another interview you know i just have a final question for you i have so many questions but just sort of one that brings us back to your role in government we’ve heard a lot about talks between the sides between ukrainians and russians what can you tell us about what you know about those talks and what do you possibly see as a way for this to end

uh that is a complicated question because uh frankly speaking uh well when the russians are saying let’s find the compromise yeah i can hardly imagine this compromise frankly speaking because uh you see the situation is like this they want us dead and we want to leave so there is very little room for compromise between being dead and alive you are basically one or another so um that’s why when the russians were talking about having the talks uh they were offering like let the ukrainian army surrender there was no not a single good reason for the ukrainian army to surrender because we were actually winning we still are winning and i’m continuing i’m sure that we shall we shall prevail after all uh the major question is just uh the number of casualties we shall suffer in them in the process so i would love that to have a diplomatic solution but i believe by this time everyone in the world just realizes that putin is a madman he has gone completely nuts he’s he’s not a rational person and you can only hold some you know some negotiations with a person who is thinking rationally but he’s just so much driven by his hatred towards ukraine uh his hatred toward the very idea of democratic state existing right so close to russia that i don’t think he can be rationed with he’s like he’s not thinking rationally and that is why well our hope is that probably someone in his circle is thinking rationally but we cannot be sure about that so as of now our trust lies with our army and hopefully with the west we are asking the west for the toughest sanctions possible for russia like full trade embargo just don’t give a single dollar to to the russia because it will use it to kill ukrainians we asking for uh any support you can provide to the army now protective gear or anything else we’ll take it uh we shall be putting that to good use to protect our own lives and then the third thing is help us establish no fly zone because those air strikes over over the cities in ukraine they’re just terrifying and it’s very difficult to fight when when the enemy is killing your uh your people from air so uh with that i believe we shall be able to prevail and i do hope that we shall be able to avoid many more casualties um let me just ask you a final question on that because the no-fly zone has been a big topic of conversation in america the white house’s position right now on that is that we can’t establish a no-fly zone over ukraine because that would draw america into combat a combat that we’re not willing to be in at this point because the conflict will only get larger what’s your response to that i do hear that debate i do understand the complexities of it um but i will remind you of that the putin did say that he doesn’t like poland and hungary being nato members he doesn’t like basically the whole of your eastern european part of nato that he does his uh have his issues with finland um so he can attack there so the question is let’s imagine uh ukraine is taken over by putin he will not be stopped there because then he will go on and try to attack poland and nato will have to get engaged anyways because poland is a nato member uh he or he if he tries to attack or provoke finland i believe the whole western world will will stand up to protect finland so i think what we need to understand is that um right now just stopping him as early as possible is the best way because otherwise he will not be stopped we do realize he has gone completely crazy uh so um i believe uh right now getting engaged is the way to save lives because i otherwise uh you will have to engage to save lives in poland and in hungary with much much more casualties i was looking back on some of your social media posts that day was going back as far as i possibly could and it was interesting to see what you were putting on twitter in january and in december and your warnings that you were giving at that time and in fact in december you said the ukrainian army has been defending europe’s eastern border for eight years so you were always starting to say this is the eastern border of europe not just the eastern border of ukraine and so that’s a i know that’s a whole other topic of a conversation that i hope that we can have i know you have an interview that you also have to run to and i’m really appreciative of your time any final thoughts you know before you go about you know what are your what you’re watching for next and what you really think the stakes are here i believe that the stakes here extremely high because right now it is a war of russia against ukraine officially but i believe at this point the whole world understand that it is actually a war for the very idea of democracy of respect for human rights so uh i guess everyone who is supporting that should just get engaged in any way possible uh we shall be fighting we shall be uh truly defending the the eastern border of europe but we are just asking for any help that we can get and i’m sure we shall prevail i’m sure we shall win uh i i’m so much in love with my people right now and their level of resistance they are showing and we are just asking for all the help we can get from anyone listening to this from anyone in the west so that we can avoid uh well that disaster it can turn into you know thank you so much for your time we’ll be thinking of you and your family i hope we can stay in touch and i’d love to hear more for your perspective as as the days and weeks go on not just during the conflict but what’s next because we’re going to be we’re going to be looking forward to that thank you so much for your time today thank you so much

quick concise non-partisan smarter news a refuge from the storm i’m jenna thank you for choosing smarter

by Jenna Lee,