‘How Can I Be a Nazi?’ Zelensky’s Direct Appeal to Russians Before Ukraine Attack

In this handout photo taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Zelenskyy declared martial law, saying Russia has targeted Ukraine's military infrastructure. He urged Ukrainians to stay home and not to panic. (Ukrainian …
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky broadcasted an address directed at the Russian people on Wednesday night shortly before what Kyiv described as a “full-scale” offensive against the country began, urging them to pressure autocrat Vladimir Putin to reconsider war.

Zelensky directly addressed Putin’s repeated accusations that his government consists of Nazis and the Russian government’s claims that strikes against major cities like Kyiv, Dnipro, and Mariupol were necessary for the “de-Nazification” of the country. Zelensky is Jewish and revealed in his speech that his grandfather fought the Nazis in World War II.

The speech, he explained, was necessary because he attempted to reach Putin directly and was met with “silence.” Russian bombs began flying over major Ukrainian citizens hours later.

“The whole world speaks of what could happen day to day. A cause for war could arise at any moment. Any provocation, any incident, could be the flare of a fire that burns everything,” Zelensky warned. “You have been told that this flame will bring liberation to Ukraine’s people. But the Ukrainian people are free.”

“They tell you that we’re Nazis. But how can a people that lost eight million lives to defeat the Nazis support Nazism? How can I be a Nazi?” Zelensky asked. “Say it to my grandfather, who fought in World War II as a Soviet infantryman and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.”

The president then urged Russians to reject Putin’s claims that he was behind a violent initiative against civilians in Donbas by reminiscing about his personal ties to the Donbas region, which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk:

They told you that I would order an attack on the Donbas, order indiscriminate shootings and bombings. This leads to some questions – some very simple ones. Who are we shooting at? What are we bombing?

Donetsk, which I have visited dozens of times? Where I looked in people’s faces, in their eyes? Artyoma Street, where I strolled with friends? The Donbas Arena, where I rooted for our boys together with Ukrainian lads at the European Championships? Shcherbakov Park, where I drank with friends when our boys lost?

Luhansk? Where the mother of my best friend is buried? Where his father also rests? Take note, that I am speaking to you all in Russian now, but no one in Russia knows the meaning of these places, these streets, these names, these events. These are all alien to you, unfamiliar.

“If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you,” Zelensky suggested to the Russian people. “Do you Russians want a war? I would very much like to know the answer, but that answer depends only on you, on the citizens of the Russian Federation.”

The speech represented a significant contrast to Putin’s appeal to the Russians to support the war on Monday, which consisted largely of recalling events during the eras of Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin to make the case that Ukraine has no right to exist.

“Modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia – to be more exact by Bolshevik communist Russia,” Putin claimed, calling Lenin the “architect” of Ukraine and vowing to engage in the country’s “decommunization.”

“Ukraine has never had stable traditions of their own statehood. Starting from 1991, they followed the path of the mechanical copying of foreign models that had nothing to do with their history or with the Ukrainian realities,” the Russian leader asserted.

By Thursday, small signs had begun appearing that some had heeded Zelensky’s message. Videos on social media surfacing on Thursday evening local time in St. Petersburg, Russia, appeared to show a crowd gathering to demand an end to the war.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on Thursday the arrest of at least one human rights activist, Marina Litvinovich, who had called for mass protests nationwide against invading Ukraine.

“I know that many of you right now feel desperate, powerless, and ashamed over the attack by [President] Vladimir Putin on the friendly people of Ukraine,” Litvinovich had written on social media prior to her arrest. “But I call on you not to be desperate and come out to the central squares of your cities at 7 p.m. today and clearly and explicitly say that we, the people of Russia, are against the war unleashed by Putin.”

The Russian government published a statement on Thursday warning citizens that the Putin regime will not respect their rights of expression of free assembly.

“One should be aware of the negative legal consequences of these actions in the form of prosecution up to criminal liability,” Russia’s Investigative Committee, which engages in criminal investigations, announced.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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