Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky was heaped with praise today after giving a moving speech in which he vowed Vladimir Putin’s forces would ‘see our faces, not our backs’ if they chose to attack – hours before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of his country.
Speaking in Russian to address ordinary Russians on national television in the early hours of this morning, Mr Zelensky said he had tried to call Putin directly but had been met with ‘silence’.
He said his country and Russia does not need a war, ‘not a Cold War, not a hot war. Not a hybrid one.’
The former comedian and actor then sombrely warned Putin: ‘But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves.
‘When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces.’
Today, Mr Zelensky was widely praised on social media for his brave response.
One person said it was the ‘most moving thing’ they have heard in a ‘long time’, adding that it would be ‘discussed and remembered’.
Another said the president’s words were ‘incredibly moving’, while a third said they were ‘heart-wrenchingly human’.
A fourth said Mr Zelensky’s speech was ‘incredible’ and added that his actions reflected ‘everything Putin has not been’.
However, shortly after making his speech, Putin signalled he was totally disregarding his counterpart’s words as he gave the order to attack at around 5am, unleashing a salvo of rocket fire before a full-scale assault by land and air began.
This evening, it emerged that Russian forces had seized control of Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Video revealed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles standing in front of the destroyed reactor, which sits just 60 miles north of the capital Kiev.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky was heaped with praise today after giving a moving speech in which he vowed Vladimir Putin’s forces would ‘see our faces, not our backs’ if they chose to attack – hours before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of his country
Mr Zelensky gave his speech dressed in a suit and standing in front of a map of Ukraine.
Opting to speak in Russian in the hope that ordinary Russians would see his broadcast, he said: ‘Today I initiated a phone call with the president of the Russian federation. The result was silence.
‘Though the silence should be in Donbass. That’s why I want to address today the people of Russia.
‘I am addressing you not as a president, I am addressing you as a citizen of Ukraine. More than 2,000 km of the common border is dividing us. Along this border your troops are stationed, almost 200,000 soldiers, thousands of military vehicles.
‘Your leaders approved them to make a step forward, to the territory of another country. And this step can be the beginning of a big war on European continent.’
He then stirringly spoke of how both Ukrainian soldiers and ordinary citizens would stand and fight if Russia did opt to attack.
Mr Zelensky then added: ‘The war is a big disaster, and this disaster has a high price. With every meaning of this word.
‘People lose money, reputation, quality of life, they lose freedom. But the main thing is that people lose their loved ones, they lose themselves.’
Today, Mr Zelensky was widely praised on social media for his brave response. One person said it was the ‘most moving thing’ they have heard in a ‘long time’, adding that it would be ‘discussed and remembered’
He also dismissed Putin’s false claims that Ukraine is posing a threat to Russia and insisted that ordinary Russians ‘don’t want’ and ‘can stop’ a war.
The former actor added that his words would not be shown on Russian television, but he said ordinary Russians ‘have to see it’.
‘They need to know the truth, and the truth is that it is time to stop now, before it is too late,’ he said.
‘And if the Russian leaders don’t want to sit with us behind the table for the sake of peace, maybe they will sit behind the table with you.
‘Do Russians want the war? I would like to know the answer. But the answer depends only on you, citizens of the Russian Federation.’
Reacting with praise, one social media user said: ‘Zelenskiy’s [sic] speech in Russian, directed to the Russian people was the most moving thing I’ve heard in a long time. It will be discussed and remembered for a long time.’
Another wrote: ‘Incredibly moving speech from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy addressing his people and also their Russian neighbors.’
A third said: ‘This address by Ukrainian president Zelenskiy is incredible. Moving, rational, human. Everything Putin has not been. Especially the appeal to ordinary Russians, many of whom have family & friends in Ukraine.’
A fourth said: ‘Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing the Russian people directly in a powerful, moving, and heart-wrenchingly human speech.’
The president had given a ‘moving spectacle’ and had looked ‘exhausted, or moved nearly to tears at some points,’ another person on Twitter said
The president had given a ‘moving spectacle’ and had looked ‘exhausted, or moved nearly to tears at some points,’ another person on Twitter said.
Mr Zelensky’s brave stance was repeated later today when he gave a press conference in which he had swapped his suit for military uniform.
‘If you, dear European leaders, dear world leaders, free world leaders, if you don’t help us today, if you don’t help Ukraine strongly, then tomorrow, the war will knock on your door,’ he said.
‘This is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world.’
The politician’s rise to the post of president came in 2019, after he unexpectedly ran in the Ukrainian election.
He had previously pursued a career in comedy and starred as president in TV show Servant of the People.
Born in Kryvyi Rih, a Russian-speaking region in south-east Ukraine, in January 1978, he obtained a degree in law from Kyiv National Economic University before his turn into acting.
In Servant of the People, he played a history teacher who is unintentionally elected as the president, after a video of his character giving an anti-corruption rant goes viral.
Pictured: Ukrainian comedian, and Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky reacts at his campaign headquarters following a presidential elections in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 21, 2019
Zelensky’s only previous political role was in TV show ‘Servant of the People’ (pictured) playing a history teacher who is unintentionally elected as the president of Ukraine, after a video of his character giving an anti-corruption rant goes viral
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky holding the Bulava, the Ukrainian symbol of power, during his inauguration ceremony at the parliament in Kiev on May 20, 2019
Like his character, Zelensky in 2019 ran on an anti-corruption campaign, and trounced the pro-Russia leaning incumbent Petro Poroshenko by taking 73 percent of votes.
Poroshenko lost to the television star across all regions of the country, including in the west where he traditionally enjoyed strong support.
It was an extraordinary outcome to a campaign that started as a joke but struck a chord with voters frustrated by poverty, corruption and a five-year war.
A poster for ‘Servant of the People’, in which Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky played the leading role
At his campaign HQ, as the exit polls came out, Zelensky said: ‘I will never let you down. While I am not formally president yet, as a citizen of Ukraine I can tell all post-Soviet countries: ‘Look at us! Everything is possible!”
But despite his landslide victory, uncertainty remained about how Russian-speaking Zelensky would lead Ukraine, and tackle its biggest threat across the border in the from of Russia and its president.
Since taking power in 2019, he has had to manage forces pulling his country in drastically different directions.
On the one hand, Ukraine has been developing is relationship with the US, NATO and the European Union. On the other, Russia and Putin have been desperate to stop the former Soviet state slipping further away.
All the while, he has been seeking to keep his countrymen calm, and has displayed measured leadership in the fact of growing challenged.
But in recent months, he has faced the biggest challenge of his premiership – the threat of a Russian invasion.
Before the possibility of invasion emerged, Zelenskyy promoted unity between the Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking parts of the country.
He also oversaw the lifting of legal immunity for members of Ukraine’s parliament, as well as the country’s response to the Covid pandemic and economic recession which followed.
His critics alleged that he sought to centralise his personal political power by taking power away from the Ukrainian oligarchs.
Mr Zelensky’s brave stance was repeated later today when he gave a press conference in which he had swapped his suit for military uniform
His government also shut down pro-Russian media in the country, and placed main opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, who boasts of his personal ties to Putin, under house-arrest for alleged treason.
Before Russia’s invasion, Zelenskyy appeared to blow hot and cold over the prospect of a Russian assault.
In a press conference before UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the country several weeks ago, Zelenskyy accused Western governments of creating ‘panic’ by repeatedly warning of an invasion.
Yet in a fiery speech at the Munich Security Conference last week, the Ukrainian President accused the West of ‘appeasing’ Putin.