The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was forced to clarify on Monday night that his announcement declaring Wednesday a public holiday because of an alleged Russian invasion was intended as “irony” and mockery of anonymous media reports, not a confirmation that Russia will invade on Wednesday.
Zelensky issued a nationally televised speech on Monday declaring Wednesday a Ukrainian “Day of Unity,” urging citizens to decorate their streets in the national colors, blue and yellow, wear patriotic clothing, and get together to sing the national anthem. A presidential decree declaring Wednesday a holiday also included a pay raise for the Ukrainian armed forces and the creation of a new media platform to combat misinformation coming from American and other Western corporate media about any alleged invasion.
“We are told that February 16 will be the day of the attack. We will make it the Day of Unity,” Zelensky said in the address, according to the official English-language translation from the Ukrainian government. “The relevant decree has already been signed. On this day, we will hoist national flags, put on blue and yellow ribbons and show the world our unity.”
“Today is not just Valentine’s Day. It is the day of those in love with Ukraine. We believe in our own strength and continue to build our future together. Because we are united by love for Ukraine, united and unique,” the president said. “And love will win. Yes, now you may think it’s darkness all around. But tomorrow the sun will rise again over our peaceful sky.”
Elsewhere in the remarks, Zelensky derided international media for attempting to sow panic with repeated reports predicting an invasion.
“We are being intimidated by the great war and the date of the military invasion is being set again. This is not the first time,” Zelensky said, accusing an unspecified “they” of attempting to “spread panic among citizens and investors through the media” and “deprive us of the right to determine our own foreign policy course.”
To Ukrainian journalists specifically, Zelensky advised, “work for Ukraine, not for those who fled. The fate of the country today depends on your honest position.”
Some American media outlets reported Zelensky’s speech as an original source for the claim that Russia will invade on Wednesday and did not make any indications in their reporting that Zelensky was in any way dismissive or sarcastic about the date.
— The Hill (@thehill) February 14, 2022
Pres Zelensky says that Ukraine “has been informed” that there will be an attack on Wednesday. He does not say who told him this. The US has said that Russia could invade Ukraine any day now, including in the next few days.
— Kylie Atwood (@kylieatwood) February 14, 2022
In response to the corporate media reporting, global markets destabilized, apparently in preparation for a full-scale Russian military onslaught in the country this week.
Markets twitchy over Zelensky's quips about Russia's military intent pic.twitter.com/RihPHfU9IO
— Saleha Mohsin (@SalehaMohsin) February 14, 2022
The panic prompted Zelensky spokesman Sergii Nykyforov to clarify that Zelensky was joking.
“The president referred to a date that was spread by the media,” Nykyforov told NBC News.
Another advisor told CNN that Zelensky was being “ironic.” Multiple subsequent reports on the speech indicated that Zelensky appeared clearly mocking and sarcastic in his spoken remarks, even when the English-language text of his words did not reflect that.
Великий народе великої країни! Перед нашою державою постали серйозні зовнішні та внутрішні виклики, які вимагають від…
Prior to becoming president in 2019, Zelensky was a professional comic actor. He rose to prominence as the star of the sitcom Servant of the People, where he played a working-class high school teacher who suddenly becomes president after a recording of him ranting about politics goes viral on Youtube. Zelensky had no experience in public office when he won the presidency.
Zelensky’s declaration of Wednesday as a holiday appeared to be mocking a report published last week by the Washington blog Politico that claimed Biden was telling allies that the Russians had chosen February 16 to invade. The report cited “a person familiar” for the date and claimed that Russia’s military attack “could be preceded by a barrage of missile strikes and cyberattacks.”
Zelensky appeared to address the report on Saturday prior to his national address on Monday, demanding reporters tell him any credible information indicating such an invasion because, as the president, that information would be valuable to him.
“If you, or anyone else, has additional information regarding a 100 percent Russian invasion starting on the 16th, please forward that information to us,” Zelensky told reporters, suggesting he had no such credible information. “Right now, the people’s biggest enemy is panic in our country. And all this information is only provoking panic and not helping us.”
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, colonizing the Crimea region and supplying pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas regions with weapons they have used to engage in a war still ongoing today. After eight years of minimal interest in this invasion, which began when current American President Joe Biden was vice president, the Biden administration has spent the past two months issuing breathless predictions of an incoming Russian invasion of Ukraine that allegedly requires the rapt attention of the entire world.
Current fears of a further invasion of Ukraine were prompted by Biden himself, who told reporters in January that he would not interfere if Russia invades Ukraine if it engages only in a “minor incursion,” without elaborating. Biden also claimed that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had definitively decided to further invade Ukraine.