These words were spoken by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, on national TV on Wednesday evening, , 23 February 2022, hours before the start of the Russian invasion.
The FT’s Max Seddon reported:
“The first two minutes of that speech were in Ukrainian. Zelensky updated the nation on the state of emergency and his contacts with Ukraine’s western allies. ‘I thank everyone who supports Ukraine. We keep on working, he ended.’
But the next nine minutes, in which Zelensky addressed Russians directly, were absolutely astonishing. A powerful, dignified, mature, and heartfelt appeal for peace between Russians and Ukrainians that couldn’t have been any more different from Putin’s resentful rant.”
We felt this transcript should be read as widely as possible. This is what a true leader sounds like.
“Today I telephoned the president of the Russian Federation. The result was silence. Though the silence should be in Donbass. That’s why I want to speak today to the people of Russia. I am addressing you not as a president, I am addressing you as a citizen of Ukraine. We have more than 2,000 kilometers of common border with you. Along this border your troops are stationed, almost 200,000 soldiers, with thousands of military vehicles. Your leaders ordered them to take a step forward, towards the territory of another country. And this step could be the beginning of a big war on the European continent.
The whole world is talking about what may happen any day now. A reason can appear at any moment. Any provocation. Any spark. A spark that has the potential of burning everything down. Your are told that this flame will bring freedom to the people of Ukraine. But the people of Ukraine are already free. They remember their past, and are building their own future. They are building it, not destroying it, as you are told every day on TV.
Ukraine in your news and Ukraine in reality are two different countries. The most important difference is that ours is real. You are being told that we are Nazis. But how can nation be called Nazi after sacrificing more than 8 million lives to eradicate Nazism?
How can I be a Nazi, when my grandfather survived the whole war as part of the Soviet infantry, and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine?
You are told that we hate Russian culture. But how can a culture be hated? Any culture? Neighbours are always enriching each other culturally. Yet, that does not make them one entity, and does not separate people into “us” and “them”. We are different, but that is not a reason to be enemies. We want to build our own history. Peacefully. Calmly. Truthfully.
You are told that I am ordering an attack on Donbass. To shoot. To bomb without question. Although there are questions. To shoot who? To bomb what? Donetsky? Where I have been dozens of times? I have seen their faces and eyes. Artama? Where I’ve walked with friends before? Donbass Arena? Where I rooted with the locals for our boys during the Euros? Shcherbakova Park? Where we drank together after our team lost? Lugansk? The home of my best friend’s mom? The place where his father is buried?
Note that I am now speaking in Russian, yet no one is Russian understands what these names, streets and events mean. This is all foreign to you. Unknown. This is our land. This is our history. What are you going to fight for? And against whom?
Many of you have visited Ukraine before. Many of you have relatives in Ukraine. Some of you studied in our universities. Made friends with Ukrainians. You know our character, you know our people, you know our principles. You know what we cherish the most. Look inside you, listen to the voice of reason, of common sense. Hear our voices. The people of Ukraine want peace. The people of Ukraine want peace. Ukrainian authorities want peace. We want it and we make it. We are doing everything in our power.
We are not alone, it’s true. Ukraine is supported by many countries. Why? Because we are not just talking about “peace at any price”. We are talking about peace, and about principles, justice. About everyone’s right to define their own future, about safety, and everyone’s right to live without threat.
All of this is important to us. All of this is important for peace. I know this is also important for you.
We know for sure that we don’t need a war. Not a cold war, not a hot war. Not a hybrid one. But if we are threatened, if someone tries to take away our country, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. Not attack, but defend ourselves. And when you will be attacking us, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces.
War is a big disaster, and this disaster has a high price, in every sense of this word. People lose their money, reputation, quality of life, they lose freedom. But the main thing is that people lose their loved ones, they lose themselves.
A lot of thing are always scarce in wartime. But what there is in abundance is pain, dirt, blood and death. Thousands, tens of thousands of deaths.
They told you that Ukraine is posing a threat to Russia. This was not the case in the past, it is not in the present, it’s not going to be in the future. You want security guarantees from NATO. We also want security guarantees. Security guarantees for Ukraine from you – from Russia, and from the other guarantors of the Budapest memorandum.
Today, we are not part of any security alliances. The security of Ukraine is tied to the security of our neighbours. That is why we are now talking about the security of all Europe. But our main goal is peace in Ukraine and the safety of our people, Ukrainians.
For that we are ready to have talks with anybody, including you, in any format, on any platform. War will take away guarantees from all of us — nobody will have guarantees of security any more. Who will suffer the most from it? The people. Who doesn’t want it the most? The people! Who can stop it? The people. Are these people among you? I am sure they are. Public figures, journalists, musicians, actors, athletes, scientists, doctors, bloggers, stand-ups. Tiktokers, and more. Ordinary people, ordinary, simple people. Men, women, old, young, fathers, and most importantly, – mothers.
The same is true of the people in Ukraine, no matter how much they try to convince you of the opposite.
I know that they won’t show my speech on Russian TV, but Russian people have to see it. They need to know the truth, and the truth is that this needs to stop, before it is too late. And if Russian leaders don’t want to talk to us for the sake of peace, maybe they will talk to you. Do the people of Russia want war? I would like to know the answer. But the answer depends only on you, citizens of the Russian Federation.
English text based on subtitles from the YouTube video plus partial transcript published by CNN and Al-Jazeera and checked for accuracy by a Russian scholar, against the video.
With thanks to Colin Gordon of Oxford for Europe for sending this in to us.