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Ex-Ukrainian government official leaves his family to fight against Russia

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

In the hours since Russia invaded its neighbor, Ukrainians have mobilized with more civilians joining territorial defense brigades. Volodymyr Omelyan is among them. We first met in Ukraine a few weeks ago at his political party's offices. Omelyan served as Ukraine's infrastructure minister from 2016 to 2019. And when we spoke, he talked of past Russian aggressions and how Ukraine has survived it. We reached him again yesterday after he had just signed up to defend Ukraine's capital.

VOLODYMYR OMELYAN: I'm not natural born killer. And I never dreamed to be that type of guy. But I see that my motherland is in danger, my kids and the direct impact of Russian invasion. And the only ability to stop all of them is to unite and to fight back. And we do understand that Putin will never stop. And he's ready to go farther. But somebody should stop those Russians, and let it be us.

MARTINEZ: Do you know any others who have done exactly as you are planning to do, to join the armed forces? And how much experience do all of you have in these type of situations?

OMELYAN: You know, I was admired today to see military stations open for all people to join the army or to join the militia, because I was at three stations and they were overcrowded. Different types of people, different age came to the military stations with one request, give us weapon. We are ready to fight. And we are ready to kill.

MARTINEZ: How close are you to all of the Russian aerial assaults that appear to be happening across Ukraine? We saw some really disturbing images on television all day long.

OMELYAN: It happened over my head today in the morning. So I woke up with the sound of missile blast close to my house. So I immediately woke up my family. We got packed, having our IDs, money, pocket money and some small belongings with us. And we survived this day. Those missile strikes took all day long. So it was happening every one or three hours for 24 hours of this day. The same is happening all over Ukraine these days. And it will continue for another couple of days the most, I hope. Therefore, we also urge for fast support from West - but those deadly sanctions, which were promised to Russia if they break the border of Ukraine, the financial support for Ukraine and especially military support because we cannot hit this armory with only words or good statements or good commitments.

MARTINEZ: What part of Ukraine, if it's safe for you to say, are you in right now? And what are you seeing and experiencing around you right now?

OMELYAN: It's Kyiv.

MARTINEZ: It's Kyiv? OK.

OMELYAN: It's Kyiv. Yeah, yeah. And it's also a funny story for me because I was born in Lviv, it's western part of Ukraine, which is really nice to be, the safest part of Ukraine. And I was called by many friends of mine telling me that, look; drop this thing. Don't risk your life. Don't risk the life of your family. Come back to Lviv. You are Lviv boy (ph). And, you know, this is the very day when I understood that I belong to Kyiv. And if we lose capital of Ukraine, there will be no Ukraine. But we believe that we will fight, and we will win.

MARTINEZ: And your family, how does your family feel about what you're doing?

OMELYAN: Definitely, they are not feeling good, especially after this - today's experience. But still, I hope that this war will come to short end and we will try to forget it as nightmare. But we will always remember that those were Russians who did this to us.

MARTINEZ: Stay safe, and all the best. Thank you for joining us.

OMELYAN: Thank you a lot. We will win. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.