KYIV, Ukraine – He appeared on Ukrainian television early Thursday morning, when the threat of war was diminishing. First, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to handle 44 million Ukrainian citizens. He then turns to the 144 million Russians living next door and begs them to stop an attack that recalls the darkest era in Europe since the Second World War.
“Listen to the voice of reason,” Mr. Zelensky speak after midnight on Thursday in Kyiv. “The Ukrainian people want peace.”
It was a reckless attempt to save his country – and it didn’t work out. Hours later, a full-scale invasion of Russia began and Mr. Zelensky, a former TV and comic actor, became a wartime leader. And now, even as the Russian offensive continues, the Ukrainian people have rallied around him.
His dramatic speech as well as his appearance at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, where he warned European allies about “appeasing” Russia, have earned Mr. which even his allies often do not apply to him – gravitas.
Now, he will face the biggest crisis in his country’s modern history, even as he confronts Russian President Putin.
“Putin started the war against Ukraine and against the entire democratic world, after Russian troops attacked targets in 16 cities,” Zelensky said in his second nationwide address on Thursday. across the country, including the capital city Kyiv. “He wants to destroy our country, and everything that we have built and are building. But we know the strength of the Ukrainian people”.
“You are indomitable,” he added. “You are Ukrainian.”
Of course it remains unclear how long the Ukrainians can actually hold out, or even if the Ukrainians can actually hold out against a much larger and superior Russian force, or whether Mr. continued to perform a role he never rehearsed or not. Public opinion can still turn against him sharply, as happened in mid-February when the threat of war grew. And a more serious danger lurks: possible assassination – a prospect even Zelensky’s office raised on Thursday as Russian forces closed in on Kyiv.
Maria Zolkina, a Ukrainian political analyst with the Foundation for Democracy Initiatives, said Zelensky “did not choose to fight and he was not a wartime president. But since yesterday, when his intelligence became clear what the attack would look like, he was acting exactly the way a president should act in wartime mode.” .
Mr Zelensky came to power as an anti-corruption, at the time confident of his ability to mediate peace in the protracted smoldering conflict with then-only Russian-backed separatists. term in the east of the country. He won a landslide battle, with 73% of Ukrainians backing him over the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, a wealthy businessman who has taken a hardline stance against Moscow.
Mr. Zelensky has no previous political experience other than playing a president on television. He won a populist agenda by targeting a wealthy oligarch class and promising to be a pragmatic president with vision because Ukraine is a country that is neither a “corrupt partner of the West” nor a “little sister of Russia”. His strongest support comes from southern and eastern Ukraine, including in the conflict-ridden Donetsk and Luhansk regions, some of which is pooled by two breakaway regions Independence that Mr. Putin recognized on Monday.
Since then, doubts have lingered about his preparation to navigate Ukraine through such treacherous straits and the expertise of the advisers he surrounded him with, many of whom drew from the studio. his comedy, Kvartal 95. While his defense and military insiders are well respected and he has slowly built a worthy team, many around him have come in with little experience in running, let alone. diplomacy or war.
Since the Russian invasion, they are on the front lines. And Mr. Zelensky, in his final call to quit the war, has captured that moment and all of its drama in a way few would expect, giving those under siege a rallying point. very necessary.
When he appeals to the Russian people directly, he considers them neighbors and family, even as he acknowledges their differences and admits that they may never hear his words, for the Kremlin’s sake. keep a close eye on the Russian media.
Ukraine’s parliament declares a military emergency, the government says it will give weapons to anyone with combat experience ready to defend the country, and calls on people to donate blood for wounded veterans. love.
“The future of our Ukrainian people depends on every citizen,” Mr. Zelensky said on Thursday.
“The enemy has suffered heavy losses,” he added. “The enemy’s losses will be even greater. They have come to our land. Ukraine is being attacked from the north, east and south. Attacked from the air. Project protection. Today, the army and national unity are the pillars of the Ukrainian state. It was a hopeful statement considering the level of firepower Russian soldiers resisted.
Mr. Zelensky’s path mirrors that of his country, which has been at war with Russia-backed separatists for eight years. The past decade has seen a significant increase in Ukrainian national pride and use of the Ukrainian language, in tandem with confidence in democracy and a pro-Western orientation. Confidence in Russia and respect for Putin’s authoritarian government has waned.
“He made a change because basically Ukrainian society made this transformation,” says Volodymyr Yermolenko, philosopher and editor of World Ukraine magazine.
The president is “a person from eastern Ukraine, a Russian-speaking person who does his business in Russian,” he said, referring to Mr. Zelensky’s TV channel, Kvartal 95. The Russians would expect pro-Russian policies on his part, but he understood that the Russians wanted to do things on their terms and push Ukraine around, while denying Ukraine even existed. Of course he gradually became a typical Ukrainian patriot.”
And the Ukrainian people rallied around Mr. Zelensky, even though try to lower President Biden’s dim prognosis for a full-blown invasion of Russia has caused anxiety and cost the country significant time to prepare.
“Ukrainians are uniting, we have a president,” said Daria Kaleniuk, head of the Ukraine Action Center Against Corruption, an influential think tank.
“He is the commander-in-chief, and the Ukrainian army is following his instructions. We’re backing him now, he’s leading the country at war, unconcerned with any criticism about how it could have been handled better. His role is extremely important right now.”
Unity is remarkable in a Ukraine that has been marked by bad politics.
Even Zelensky’s predecessor, Poroshenko, whom Zelensky’s government wanted for treason and support the terrorism that many consider politically motivated – behind him.
“I want people to see that Kyiv exhibits responsible behavior,” he wrote on Facebook.
There are some who want Mr. Zelensky to make peace at any cost.
“I want our president to wave a white flag, I want us to give up as long as there is no war,” said Oksana Zymunova, a 23-year-old shop assistant frantically searching for train tickets at Kyiv’s central station. . “As long as there is no war. I understand that he’s afraid that people won’t accept it,” she said, referring to Mr. Zelensky, “but he has to raise the white flag.”
Ms. Zymunova, wearing a pair of vibrant pink tracksuits and carrying her two cats in containers, is cursing the lack of tickets.
But most Ukrainians have stood their ground.
“People are here risking their lives because this country is more than just territory,” said Fedir Serdiuk, 26, who runs a first aid training business.
“This has united people,” he said, adding that as tensions escalated, “people bought ammunition rather than plane tickets.”
But Ms. Kaleniuk worries that Mr. Zelensky has been abandoned by his Western allies, who have not imposed strong enough sanctions on Mr. Putin and his supporters.
“What is happening now is similar to what happened in 1939,” Kaleniuk said, referring to the Nazi invasion of Poland.
“No one believed that Germany would invade a European country. And no one believes that Putin, the new Hitler of our time, will invade a peaceful country. The first civilians have been killed, and there will be more suffering. We have warned our Western partners that you have to be tough on Russia – don’t be gentle with them. It is an invitation to more violence.”
Maria Varennikova contribution report.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/24/world/europe/ukraine-zelensky-speech.html Volodymyr Zelensky, Actor President of Ukraine, Enters Wartime Role