‘You Will Repay Us Everything’: Zelensky Demands Russia Pay ‘Reparations’ for War

MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 19: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a meeting w
Matt Dunham - Pool / Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued an address to the Russian people on Thursday, according to state media, in which he announced that Russia would pay “reparations” and rebuild “everything” the ongoing war has destroyed in Ukraine.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, colonizing its Crimean Peninsula and supporting violent separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, regions of eastern Ukraine. Last week, Putin announced that Russia would officially recognize Donetsk and Luhansk as sovereign states and that the pro-Russia separatists would receive recognition as sovereign governments. He then announced that those governments had requested Russian military assistance against Zelensky’s “Nazi” forces (Zelensky is the first Jewish president of Ukraine and a descendent of World War II veterans who fought Nazi Germany, as he has repeatedly responded to Russia’s allegations).

The tone of Zelensky’s speech on Thursday, as reported by the government news site Ukrinform, was significantly less conciliatory than his address to the Russian people last week shortly after Putin began a full-scale assault of Ukraine, in which he emphasized friendly relations between Ukrainian and Russian people and urged Russians to pressure Putin to stop the war. The shift in tone aligns with that of statements from Ukrainian outlets on Wednesday declaring that Russian soldiers would be “slaughtered like pigs” if they attempted to surrender. Ukrainian government social media outlets are actively encouraging civilians to make Molotov cocktails, build roadblocks, and otherwise participate in the war.

“We will restore every house, every street, every city. We tell Russia: learn the words ‘reparations’ and ‘contributions,'” Zelensky reportedly said. “You will repay us everything. Everything you did against our state, against every Ukrainian. In full. And we will not forget those who died. We. And God.”

“You came to destroy our cities, to destroy our people, to deprive us of everything. Everything that is so dear to us,” Zelensky accused, according to the translation by Ukrinform.

Zelensky went on to compare the Russian attack to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, calling Russia “another virus, another disease.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Zelensky insisted the Russian forces “would have no peace here” and urged soldiers to “go home.”

Zelensky offered no details regarding how he would achieve full Russian reparations for the destruction caused by the invasion. The Ukrainian government filed a case before the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Russian officials last week accusing the country of war crimes for alleged attacks on “kindergartens and orphanages.” The ICC has jurisdiction to host trials for individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It typically imprisons, with the help of Rome Statute member states, those found guilty, but it can in rare cases also issue fines.

In apparent anticipation of an international criminal case, members of the Zelensky administration and Ukrainian officials at other levels of government have flooded social media with images of alleged war crimes, particularly of evidence of alleged targeting of civilians.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused the Russian government on Thursday of “indiscriminate shelling of Ukrainian cities” and has shared images of structural damage he claims was caused by Russian bombs.

Zelensky himself accused the Russian government of bombing a Holocaust memorial site, Babyn Yar. Video evidence shared by the Ukrainian government showed an assault on a TV tower near the Babyn Yar Memorial Complex, though some reports indicate the memorial itself remains unharmed.

Third parties have also documented extensive destruction in Ukraine. U.S.-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) published video of a Kyiv neighborhood on Thursday showing residential complexes partially on fire and turned to rubble.

The Russian government has denied targeting civilians and, on Wednesday, accused Ukraine of using them as human shields. The Russian Defense Ministry specifically claimed that Western “mercenaries” were active in “residential areas,” endangering local residents.

Putin reportedly asserted in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday that he had no intention of retreating anytime soon.

“Russia intends to continue the uncompromising fight against militants of nationalist armed groups,” the Kremlin claimed that Putin said in the call, apparently referring to the Ukrainian military.

The Agence-France Presse (AFP), citing an anonymous French source, claimed that Macron told Putin the Russian leader was “lying” to himself and later lamented that “the worst is yet to come” given Putin’s rigid stance on the issue.

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