Ambassador Oksana Markarova delivers keynote address at 2023 MRE Conference

Transcript and Q&A session video

WASHINGTON — As a keynote speaker Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova addressed journalists during Military Reporters & Editors annual conference on Friday, Oct. 27. Speaking without notes, Markarova emphasized Ukraine’s determination to win and the embassy’s willingness to assist the media in its travel to Ukraine.

Here is a lightly edited verbatim transcript of Ambassador Markarova’s remarks.

Good morning to everyone. Thank you for having me here. Thank you for your excellent work during this very difficult 600 and now 10 days, almost 11, that Ukraine lives through — the full phase of war in Ukraine.

The war which started as we know in 2014 but very quickly after that turned into a conflict, a war. We have lost 14,000 people actually, before the full-fledged war started. But still, it was very contained. It was contained in the eastern Ukraine, in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, in Crimea. This experience, as we have for the past 610 days is, frankly, something that we never had before — when we read about it [war] during the World War II.

During this 600 days — we were just going through the list with our people back home and my defense attaché Major General [Borys] Kremenestkyi is here with me — we have seen that we have already lost during this war 70 journalists, reporters and staffers. 70, 7-0. That’s unbelievable loss of not only talent, but something that shouldn’t be happening even during the wars.

But the rules that Russians do not obey are not only rules of engagement, not only the humanitarian laws and rules, but even with journalists. So, a friend of mine who when we found him in, near Irpin, Maks Levin, he still had his press vest on him. So, they knew who they were killing.

I just wanted to start by thanking all of you. And by thanking you and those who are now in Ukraine and who are now in Israel, and who are now in so many places covering the war because it’s very important. Without you, the world would not know what really happens, and it would be so easy for propaganda, for fakes or for aggressors to actually spread, instead of truth, spread the false narratives about it. And that is part of the war.

So, I just want, before we go into questions, to open with a couple thoughts. First, remind [you] what we’re fighting for. Because again in wars that goes for a longer time, sometimes we are all focused on the campaigns and counter offenses, and battles, and the missile attacks, and losses, and how to repair it. But It is very important to keep in mind why did it start? And what we’re fighting for. Because in this war, it is very important.

Ukraine has always wanted to be independent. We have been fighting for independence during 400 years, literally. That’s not a figure of speech. We had a very brief period of our independence in 1918. We were occupied by the Soviet Union shortly after that, unlike our Baltic states or Finland. And then in 1991, more than 92% of Ukrainians voted to be independent. It’s very important to remember it, that all of us, including Crimea, including eastern, western, southern, northern Ukraine, we all voted to be independent, and this was recognized by all, by all the countries, by all United Nations, and by Russia.

And since that time, we worked tirelessly to move closer to the European Union, to choose our own lives, to develop a democracy. We had a number of free and fair elections. We were choosing our president, unlike Russia, on a regular basis. It is very important for Ukrainians.

And you heard about the revolutions that we had. Not a lot of people are talking about the Revolution on Granite in the early 90’s when we fought for independence. But the only true revolution was because our choice was stolen from us. It was not because of a particular candidate. It was a revolution for democracy. And then in 1913 [sic 2013], the Revolution of Dignity [2014] was again because our European integration choice was stolen from us. So, it’s very important for us to be Ukrainian, independent, European, and this is what we’re fighting for, this is what people on Maidan went to fight without any weapons.

Why am I telling you this? Because all this time that we were fighting for that, Russia was planning, preparing to actually attack us, to take us back. Because the whole ideology of Russian federation since the breakup of the Soviet Union was how to restore Soviet Union. They thought it was the biggest mistake or the biggest tragedy. Well, we thought that it was the best thing that ever happened to us during the past 400 years.

So, it has a lot to do with intent. As a military correspondents, you know that every war has three elements. Intent, window of opportunity and capabilities. Intent was and unfortunately still is very clear from Russia. We just have to believe what Putin says in that sense. He wants to destroy Ukraine. He wants to occupy all Ukraine, and if not possible to occupy it then to destroy and kill us all, you know. This is what we see in Bucha, in Kharkiv, in Mariupol and in all of the places.

Therefore, for us, it is very clear. It’s a very existential war. We have to win. The choice is very simple for us. That’s why, it is very important to understand it when you look at the battlefield and when you analyze the battlefield. So, first, can we fight somewhere and not fight in other places? The answer is no.

First, we know what happens in, under the occupied territories. We know that people are being tortured, killed, raped, kidnapped into Russia there. Therefore, we have to liberate all territories. We have seen it for nine years in Crimea. We have seen this for nine years in Donetsk and Luhansk. Right now when we are doing the prisoner swaps and we get our defenders back, they tell us what they have seen in those basements and former penitentiary facilities in Donetsk and Luhansk,  and they tell us about the people who are there for five years, or three years, just detained for speaking Ukrainian not with, with no records, with no nothing and being tortured on a regular basis. So, for us, we have to liberate all of them.

Therefore, yes, there are some complaints like in the south, and you know we started the summer campaign in June. And we can debate whether it’s, fast enough or not fast enough. But you know, it is a very deliberate campaign. We did not lose during all this time. We are moving forward. It is one of the most difficult operations since World War II.

And, yes, while we are doing this, we cannot abandon any other places in Ukraine. So, yes, we will be doing everything in the east. Yes, we will be doing everything against the Black Sea Fleet. We will be doing everything in order to put Russian troops — and we have more than 400,000 of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine right now. So, we have to fight it everywhere.

Therefore, we will focus, of course, in some months on one campaign or another, but we cannot essentially ask Russians not to be active in some of the places and torture less people, you know, so that we can. So that’s like an indirect answer to some of the debate that was — can we focus somewhere and not focus in other places? No, we have to be able to stop them everywhere and we have to liberate everywhere.

Second, is it a never-ending war? The answer is no. There is actually a very clear plan. It is very clear what we need to do in order to liberate all Ukraine, and this is the strategic goal that we have. And it’s very clear for that goal but also for every goal that we have. As a part of that overarching goal, what capabilities do we need to do that? And even understanding all the restrictions with, of course, as you know, there is not an unlimited supply of air defense or 155[mm] artillery munition or something else, but it just means that we have to gather with our partners – more than 50 countries that get together, that are part of the Ramstein group. That we have to be more creative. That we have to find the right mix of capabilities. That we have to use more game changers. And just recently, they used ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile System] in two places, have shown how this longer-range, something long-range, right, that even 300 kilometers is not really a long-range from the military standpoint, but longer-range capabilities so we can actually reach everywhere on our territory. That we can not only prepare the battlefield, but we can actually change the situation.

We need to threaten all logistical channels of Russians. We need to put all of their ammo dumps and helicopters and everything they have there. And as the current situation shows, that when, unfortunately, we see the frequent visits of Hamas and Iran to Moscow and how they’re coordinating and discussing their actions, and I think all of us without even being present at those meetings, can guess that they are not discussing how to return peace to world in those meetings.

That we also have to take into account that Russia’s presence in Crimea and the Black Sea is a big threat, not only to Ukraine and to our theater but also to the transatlantic and NATO forces. So, it is our common goal to actually decrease and return the Black Sea under all of our control instead of it becoming the Russia Lake.

So, before we go, because I know you all have questions and I would rather discuss it in the questions, but what is the focus now?

We need to sustain the effort. So, I will just use the military formulations for what we need to do now.

The victory is in sight.

We know what we need to do. And in order to sustain the effort, we need our partners to stay with us in the supply of weapons, in the budget support because it is very important to have the energy, humanitarian and budget support, in order to sustain the effort in the country. We are getting closer to winter. We all know already what Russia did last winter. I think we can all safely bet that they will try to double down on their war crimes.

Just two days ago, they hit the postal depot, the distribution center in the south, in the east, in Kharkiv. Last week, they continued hitting grain storages and other facilities in the south. They are hitting the residential areas. Why are they doing that? Because without being able to have some victories for them on the battlefield, they are trying to terrorize Ukraine everywhere but also, they are trying to decrease our capability to resist and fight.

That’s why, you know, what we need is clear, from air defense to the artillery to armored vehicles to radars, to drones. So, again, the military people and at that point the level of coordination between our two countries but also with other allies at the Ramstein group level or the Ukraine contact coordination group [Ukraine Defense Contact Group] as we still call the Ramstein Group. It is very clear what is needed.

The question is how to find it, how to deliver it faster to Ukraine. And of course, all eyes are on Congress right now. The supplementary request the administration has submitted, it is really a national security supplementary request, you know because this help that is needed to us, to Israel, to other partners is really vital now.

We need to be able to sustain the efforts. We still do not need the boots on the ground. But Ukraine is much smaller country than Russia. So, in order for our great defenders to continue the effort, in order to save more of them, in order to save more lives of civilians, we just need a little bit more weapons. And we have to be asymmetrical in order to be able to win, and we can win.

This is the main point that I really would like you to take from our discussions today. We can win. We have shown it in the past. We have shown it when we liberated Kyiv Oblast, when we liberated Kharkiv Oblast, and when we liberated Kherson — which a lot of people thought would be mission impossible given how much it was under threat. And when we liberated already so many kilometers of, in the south — when, in fact, they are mined and a very elaborate defense line is built — sometimes 40 kilometers wide by the Russians. They have the air superiority there still and our brave defenders are still moving forward. So, we can win, and we need to stay the course together.

And thank you to all of you who have been in Ukraine and thank you to all of you who will go to Ukraine. And we need you more than ever now in Ukraine. So please put Ukraine on your agenda, on your focus, and the embassy will be more than happy to help you in organizing your trips to Ukraine.

Following Ambassador Markarova’s comments the session was opened to members of the press for questions and answers, moderated by Carla Babb of Voice of America.

You can view the session in its entirety via the live recording here provided by Ivan Meyers, Medill News Service, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, Northwestern University, Washington, DC.