Former Russian Lawmaker Says He's Fighting Alongside Ukrainian Troops

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A former member of the Russian legislative assembly is fighting alongside Ukrainian troops in the war waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ilya Ponomarev, a Putin critic from Siberia who served in Russia’s State Duma from 2007 to 2016, spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper about how he ended up fighting with Ukrainian forces in Kyiv. He has lived in the Ukrainian capital since 2016.

“What else could I do under those circumstances?” he said. “When Putin’s forces were advancing, we needed to defend the country. We needed to defend the capital.”

Ponomarev was the only lawmaker to vote against Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014. The vote passed 445-1.

Ponomarev said he’s been warned that he is on a Russian hit list, but that hasn’t stopped him from wanting to fight. He believes Putin is losing the war, though the president may try to claim an “imaginary victory,” he added.

“The reality is that he is losing the war. And I think that the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people would not stop before Ukraine certainly will be free,” he said. “And I believe it will.”

He said what Ukraine needs most now is clear skies. Many Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have called for enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country to try to repel airstrikes that have targeted both the military and civilians.

Western powers have resisted implementing one over concerns it could provoke open conflict with Russia, with the potential to evolve into a nuclear war.

During his time in office, Ponomarev ran afoul of his colleagues and the Kremlin by speaking out against government corruption. In 2012, he led antigovernment street protests that rattled Moscow before Putin’s return to the presidency.

He was exiled from Russia and stripped of his legislative immunity from prosecution within a few months of voting against the annexation of Crimea.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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