Sean Penn recalls meeting Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky: 'I was endlessly impressed and moved by him'

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Sean Penn praises Ukraine President Zelensky in an interview with Anderson Cooper about his experience during the Russian invasion. (Photo: Valery HACHE / AFP) (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
Sean Penn praises Ukraine President Zelensky in an interview with Anderson Cooper about his experience during the Russian invasion. (Photo: Valery HACHE / AFP) (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

Sean Penn spoke about his recent meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in a March 4 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

The Mystic River star, who is working on a documentary about Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, said that President Zelensky, who has been applauded for standing up for his country in the wake of the attack, exhibited great “courage and dignity” in recent weeks.

“The way that he has unified that country … I think that Mr. Putin added to paving the way for that,” Penn, who recently documented his experience of heading to the Polish border on social media, explained to Cooper. “But this is such an extraordinary moment, and I was endlessly impressed and moved by him, and terrified for him and for Ukraine.”

Penn, who founded the organization CORE as a way to help communities in need, also called out the “heartbreaking” effects that the Russian invasion will have around the world as “this democracy, this symbol of free dreaming, is being assaulted.”

“[Ukrainians] are fighting for their lives, and will continue to fight for their lives, and I feel that we as Americans are plummeting off a cliff — the top of which is our flag which represents all of our dreams and the best of our dreams,” he explained. “We’re plummeting where it will go out of our sight. I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if ‘no fly zones’ will create a nuclear war. I do know that we have to invest everything that we have to support the Ukrainian people, and support President Zelensky, or we will not have a memory of what America used to be.”

The Licorice Pizza actor also called for support of Russian people who do not want the invasion of Ukraine, saying they are “under a threat [if they] speak out.”

“There’s such a closeness between Ukrainian people and Russian people,” he continued. “This thing only makes sense as an exploitation of the powerful.”

Penn recommended the documentary Winter on Fire, about Ukraine’s 2014 fight for freedom, which Netflix is currently making available for free on YouTube.

Penn headed to Ukraine in February to work on his documentary and assist the people of the country, many of whom were fleeing to other countries to escape the war. He echoed his comments to Cooper in an earlier statement, saying of the Russian attack in February, "Already a brutal mistake of lives taken and hearts broken, and If he doesn't relent, I believe Mr. Putin will have made a most horrible mistake for all of humankind. President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have risen as historic symbols of courage and principle. Ukraine is the tip of the spear for the democratic embrace of dreams. If we allow it to fight alone, our soul as America is lost."

While Penn is no longer in Ukraine after making it to the Polish border, it is unclear if he is back in the United States.

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