A Ukrainian MP and mother of three has spoken of taking the difficult decision to hand her children to their grandmother and take up arms to defend her country against the Russians.
Lesia Vasylenko, 34, is helping to defend Kyiv with an AK-47 assault rifle as Russian forces encircle the city.
Last week she made the agonising decision to hand her nine-month-old baby daughter and two older children to a relative to ensure their safety, not knowing when they would be reunited.
Asked how she explained the situation to her children, Ms Vasylenko said she told them: “Mummy is having to do her job and mummy is having to protect [their] future.”
“My children understand that I am happy that they are in safety because I gave life to three beautiful human beings,” she told Sky News. “And I gave that life for them to live it and I want them to have a choice where to live it and I want that choice to include the option of Ukraine, an independent, free and strong Ukraine.”
“This is what I fight for,” she added.
The politician, a member of Ukraine’s Voice Party, has been vocal on social media about the plight of children and their parents caught up in the violence.
She explained how her life was turned upside down by the war, which took her from being a busy working mother to an armed fighter.
In one post, she shared a picture of her manicured nails in the prewar days, saying she had since cut them off because “manicures and AK-47s don’t really mix: impossible to handle your guns with those nails, [especially] when loading”.
She also spoke of how she “sobbed in tears” as she handed her children over to their grandmother to ensure their safety.
“I return to the people of Ukraine to help where I can,” she explained.
“I don’t know what to write any more. Second time in three months I had to hand off my 9 months baby girl, not knowing if I will ever see her again,” she tweeted. “This is a pain only a mother can know. It’s more painful than all of war put together. The amount of hatred in me grows every day.”
Ms Vasylenko urged Nato to heed Ukraine’s calls for a no-fly zone to prevent Russian jets and drones from bombing the country.
She warned that “history shows us that eventually other countries will need to react” to the war in Europe, and questioned why the West had not acted by now.
“I don’t understand why we wait for the refugees count to go into millions,” she said. “It’s better to act now and to have a deterrent here in Ukraine rather than wait for this to escalate to an unseen scale and unseen numbers.”
Ms Vasylenko said she was disappointed by the latest figures from Britain’s Home Office, which showed that as of Sunday morning only 50 visas had been granted to Ukrainians despite more than 10,000 applications being submitted. She called on the UK to offer visas and waive processing fees for Ukrainians who have family links to the country.
“The British government can definitely do more,” she said.
Kira Rudik, the leader of the Voice Party, the opposition to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People Party, has also take the decision to bear arms to defend her country against the Russian invaders.
Having once been a critic of Mr Zelenskyy’s policies, she has in recent days thrown her weight firmly behind the wartime leader, saying he is doing “what a president should do”.
“I'm so angry right now. I'm a woman, I have to bear arms and fight the tyrannies of those who want to take what is ours,” she told ITV News.
Politicians, musicians and men and women from ordinary walks of life have responded to Mr Zelenskyy’s call to defend Ukraine against President Putin’s troops.
Slava Vakarchuk, one of Ukraine’s most famous rock stars, last week told The National how he is using his platform to “raise the morale” of soldiers and civilians fighting the aggressors, by visiting hospitals and singing patriotic songs.