Zelensky’s Last-Ditch Plea for Peace

The Ukrainian president made a final appeal to the Russian public just hours before the invasion began.

This image, taken from an official video, shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky giving a speech on national security.
This image, taken from an official video, shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky giving a speech on national security.
This image, taken from an official video, shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky giving a speech on national security on Feb. 23. The Presidential Office of Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a speech in his native Russian on Thursday, addressing the people of Russia in a last-ditch effort to prevent war. Less than three hours later, Russian forces attacked Ukraine. His speech is reproduced below.

I would like to address the citizens of Russia directly, not as president but as a citizen of Ukraine, and I address the citizens of Russia as I would the citizens of Ukraine. We share a more than 2,000-kilometer border. Your soldiers are stationed all along it, almost 200,000 soldiers, and thousands of military vehicles. Your leaders have chosen for them to take a step forward into the territory of another country. And that single step could be the beginning of a great war on the European continent.

The whole world speaks of what could happen day to day. A cause for war could arise at any moment. Any provocation, any incident, could be the flare of a fire that burns everything.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a speech in his native Russian on Thursday, addressing the people of Russia in a last-ditch effort to prevent war. Less than three hours later, Russian forces attacked Ukraine. His speech is reproduced below.

I would like to address the citizens of Russia directly, not as president but as a citizen of Ukraine, and I address the citizens of Russia as I would the citizens of Ukraine. We share a more than 2,000-kilometer border. Your soldiers are stationed all along it, almost 200,000 soldiers, and thousands of military vehicles. Your leaders have chosen for them to take a step forward into the territory of another country. And that single step could be the beginning of a great war on the European continent.

The whole world speaks of what could happen day to day. A cause for war could arise at any moment. Any provocation, any incident, could be the flare of a fire that burns everything.

You have been told that this flame will bring liberation to Ukraine’s people. But the Ukrainian people are free. They remember their own past and will build their own future. They build, they do not destroy, as they themselves have told you day after day on television. The Ukraine in your news and the Ukraine of real life are two entirely different places, and the difference is that the latter is real.

They tell you that we’re Nazis. But how can a people that lost 8 million lives to defeat the Nazis support Nazism? How can I be a Nazi? Say it to my grandfather, who fought in World War II as a Soviet infantryman and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine. They tell you that we hate Russian culture. How can one hate a culture? Any culture? Neighbors always enrich each other’s cultures. However, we are not part of one whole. You cannot swallow us up. We are different. But this difference is not a reason for enmity. We want to determine our own course and build our own history: peacefully, calmly, and honestly.

They told you that I would order an attack on Donbass, order indiscriminate shootings and bombings. This leads to some questions, some very simple ones. Who are we shooting at? What are we bombing? Donetsk, which I have visited dozens of times? Where I looked in people’s faces, in their eyes? Artyoma Street, where I strolled with friends? The Donbass Arena, where I rooted for our boys together with Ukrainian lads at the European Championships? Shcherbakov Park, where I drank with friends when our boys lost? Luhansk, where the mother of my best friend is buried? Where his father also rests? Take note that I am speaking to you all in Russian now, but no one in Russia knows the meaning of these places, these streets, these names, these events. These are all alien to you, unfamiliar.

This is our land, and this is our history. What will you fight for and with whom? Many of you have visited Ukraine. Many of you have relatives here. Some might have studied at Ukrainian universities and befriended Ukrainians. You know our character, you know our people, and you know our principles. You know what we value. So stop and listen to yourselves, to the voice of reason, to the voice of common sense.

Hear us. The Ukrainian people want peace, as does their government. Not only do they want it, but they demonstrate that desire for peace. They do everything they can. We are not alone: It is the truth that Ukraine is supported by many nations. Why? It is not about peace at any cost. It is about peace and principles, of justice, of international law. It is about the right to self-determination, that every person might determine their own future. It is the right of every society, and of every person, to security, to a life without threats. I am certain that these rights are important to you, as well.

The truth is that this needs to end before it is too late. If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you. Do you Russians want a war? I would very much like to know the answer, but that answer depends only on you, on the citizens of the Russian Federation. Thank you for your attention.

(Translation by Thomas Morley/Foreign Policy)

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