Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko wasted no time Tuesday criticizing Ukrainian lawmakers after she was sworn in as a member of Parliament following her release in a prisoner swap with Russia last week.
“I’m back and will not let you forget — you who sit in these seats in Parliament — about all those guys, who laid down their lives for the country,” Savchenko said, according to Reuters. “I tell you that nobody is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. Nothing is forgiven. And the Ukrainian people will not let us sit in these seats if we betray them.”
Savchenko, 35, who was elected in absentia to Parliament, received a standing ovation while speaking. Her popularity and defiance could, however, pose a threat to President Petro Poroshenko’s government at a moment of low popularity and widespread unhappiness about the slow pace of reforms in Ukraine. The helicopter pilot was elected to Parliament on the ticket of lawmaker Yulia Tymoshenko and has already declared she would be willing to run for president if asked.
“Ukrainians, if you need me to be president, I’ll be president,” Savchenko told journalists when she arrived in Kiev last week. “To be honest, I won’t say that I want to be. I love to fly. But if I need to, I’ll do everything, I’ll go down this road.”
After her remarks Tuesday in Parliament, Savchenko told journalists that Ukrainian lawmakers were “lazy schoolchildren who shirk their work.” She called on lawmakers to work to achieve the release of other Ukrainians being held as prisoners in Russia.
Savchenko was captured while volunteering with a battalion in Eastern Ukraine in June 2014. The Kremlin accused her of directing artillery that killed two Russian journalists. Savchenko said she had already been captured at the time of the deaths of the journalists. While being held in Russia, she regularly undertook hunger strikes and loudly sang the Ukrainian national anthem in court.
Savchenko was released from prison last week during a prisoner exchange. Her release, after being sentenced to 22 years in prison in Russia, was a much-needed victory for President Porosheko. The government in Kiev swapped two Russian soldiers who were captured in Eastern Ukraine for Savchenko.
The Kremlin has continued to deny its soldiers are playing any direct role in the conflict that has pitted Ukrainian government forces against Russian-backed rebels. The war in Ukraine has left 9,300 dead and displaced 1.4 million.