Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has delivered an astonishing eleventh hour address to an embattled nation – and attempted to speak directly to Russian citizens in a plea for peace.
“The Ukrainian people want peace,” Zelensky said. “The government in Ukraine wants peace and is doing everything it can to build it.”
In a 10-minute address posted to social media (see above with English subtitles), the country’s leader said Russia had approved an offensive against Ukraine as Vladimir Putin had not replied to his invitation to hold talks.
Zelensky said: “Today I initiated a phone call with the president of the Russian federation. The result was silence. Though the silence should be in Donbas. 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.”
Zelensky speaks to the nation. The gravity of the situation looks to have really gotten to him.
"Today I initiated a phone conversation with the president of the Russian Federation. The result was silence. Although it's the Donbas where there should be silence." pic.twitter.com/3TLEL5MO1s
— max seddon (@maxseddon) February 23, 2022
Zelensky’s appeal made clear there was no grievance with Moscow – while pointing out how his country’s image may be portrayed by Russian media.
He said: “I know that they (the Russian state) won’t show my address on Russian TV, but Russian people 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. 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.”
"These people are among you. I'm sure. Activists, journalists, musicians, actors, athletes, scientists, doctors, bloggers, stand-up comedians, TikTokers, and many others. Ordinary people, simple people, men, women, the old, the young, fathers, and most of all - mothers."
— max seddon (@maxseddon) February 23, 2022
He vowed that the Ukrainian people will “fight back” if Putin threatens their freedom and lives by launching a full-scale invasion.
“We know for sure that we don’t need the war,” he said. “Not a Cold War, not a hot war. Not a hybrid one. But if we’ll be attacked by the (enemy) troops, if they try to take our country away from us, 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.”
It's almost 4 a.m. in Moscow, but lots of Russians are already posting about Zelensky's moving speech. "The problem is there's no one to respond to him," one writes. "Most Russians are in no condition right now to decide, say or think anything." https://t.co/xzQwk6hecX
— Anton Troianovski (@antontroian) February 24, 2022
And he made clear the Ukrainian people want nothing but peace.
He said: “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. The war will deprive (security) guarantees from everybody – nobody will have guarantees of security anymore. Who will suffer the most from it? The people. Who doesn’t want it the most? The people! Who can stop it? The people. But are there those people among you? I am sure.”
“You are told we are Nazis,” said Zelensky, who has a Jewish background. “But can a people support Nazis that gave more than eight million lives for the victory over Nazism? How can I be a Nazi? Tell my grandpa, who went through the whole war in the infantry of the Soviet Army and died as a colonel in independent Ukraine.”
Kyiv declared a nationwide state of emergency and was braced for an all-out invasion following a Kremlin declaration that rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine had requested military assistance.
The White House said the plea from Russian-backed separatists was an example of the “false-flag” operation the West was expecting Putin would use to strike.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said it is possible Russian forces commence an invasion of Ukraine imminently.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.