Life as a wartime ambassador: Oksana Markarova is Ukraine’s advocate on Capitol Hill

Dana Bash, Abbie Sharpe and Ann Parangot

Seven-year-old Karolina plays the piano at the Ukraine House cultural center in the United States capital, poking at keys, swinging her sneakers underneath. She could be any child playing the piano — except the legs swinging below the bench are prosthetic.

Karolina lost her legs last fall in a Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Nikopol and came to the United States to receive treatment.

Sitting with Karolina is Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, who helped arrange the young girl’s care.

Visits like these are now typical for the wartime ambassador.

“It’s running a marathon and just doing every day whatever you can do, in order to move our country a little bit closer to the victory,” Markarova told CNN at the Ukrainian Embassy late last month. “It’s definitely a very difficult, very demanding experience.”

This month marks two years since Markarova became ambassador. She was less than a year into her post when Russian leader Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

“We were preparing for it,” she recalled. “We knew that the intent to attack us was there, but you never completely believe until, unfortunately, something horrific like war happens.”

Markarova said that for the first couple of months of the war she would wake up and wonder if it was a bad dream.

“Everyone in Ukraine, of course, it’s more difficult for them,” she acknowledged. “As I say always, the bombs are not falling on us here – but we work literally 24/7 since February 24, and we will continue working like that until we win.”

All around Washington: These days, much of Markarova’s time is spent outside the embassy, shuttling between various government agencies around Washington.

On a recent car ride from the Capitol to the Commerce Department for one of those meetings, Markarova noted the cars she uses have become “a second office.”

“This is where I prepare between the meetings, drive around everywhere,” she told CNN from the back seat.

The former private equity associate said she is not only working on securing military aid from Congress but also seeking support from American companies and entities as Ukraine begins rebuilding.

While House Republicans are divided over helping Ukraine, Markarova said she doesn’t see a difference with the chamber’s new GOP majority. She conceded, however, that there are members she has to “talk to more.”

Markarova hopes the burgeoning political debate will not weaken support overall.

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