President Zelenskyi is showing the Russian people his arguments for Ukraine

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The answer to these historical reflections came again from Zelenskyy – and again in Russian, when the President switched languages ​​during a speech to address the Russian people directly. In response to the Kremlin’s claim that it is protecting the separatist regions from Ukrainian plans to take them by force, Zelenskyy asked who exactly he thought Russia would bomb. “Donetsk?” he asked in disbelief. “Where I’ve been dozens of times, seen people’s faces, looked into their eyes? Artyoma Street, where I used to hang out with my friends? Donbas Arena, where I cheered for our guys at the Eurocup? Scherbakov Park where we all drank after our boys lost? Luhansk? The house where my best friend’s mom lives? Where is my best friend’s father buried?”

Zelensky argued about nationality – that it is not shaped by history or language, but by individual memories, by personal connections. “Note,” he continued, “I speak Russian now, but nobody in Russia understands what I’m talking about. These place names, these streets, these families, these events – all of this is foreign to you. It’s unfamiliar. This is our country. This is our story. what will you fight for And against whom?”

He also argued about history. History is not something that happened centuries ago, like Vladimir Putin’s boring essay, but something that happened in a single lifetime. Your home was the place where your memories and the memories of your loved ones were kept. And if someone tried to enter it, there was only one answer.

As fighting continued and the Russian army responded to Ukrainian resistance by dropping huge bombs on Ukrainian cities, the news and images from Ukraine grew grimmer. And there’s no question that the worst and most terrifying parts of the war are taking place in secret, with no smartphones filming. But in this first week we learned important things. Few expected this level of resistance from Ukraine. The country had changed since 2014; It had taken some time to think about what had happened in Donbass and Luhansk and to see what had become of those places. And in Zelenskyy it had found a surprising leader – a Russian-speaking Jew who was nonetheless a deeply Ukrainian patriot. What he offered is a vision of a transnational, multi-ethnic, multilingual country on the eastern edge of Europe, and something worth fighting for.


Keith Gessen teaches journalism at Columbia University and is the author of the novel A Terrible Country.

Source photos: Alexander Venzhega/EyeEm/Getty Images; Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images

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