Zelensky delivers address in Russian, calling for peace

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
(Image credit: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke directly to the people of Russia on Wednesday night, saying they have been told by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he has a "plan to free the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free."

Zelensky delivered his taped appeal in Russian, stating that the images and information being shared by Russian leaders and state media isn't telling the actual story of what is happening in Ukraine. "They say that Ukraine may pose a threat to Russia," Zelensky said. "This wasn't a case in the past, nor is it now, and won't be in the future. Our main goal is to maintain peace in Ukraine and keep Ukrainian citizens safe." He said Russian television "will certainly not show this video, but the Russian people must watch it. The truth must be known."

Putin has said he sent troops to eastern Ukraine on Monday for a "peacekeeping" mission. A Kremlin spokesperson on Wednesday said separatist forces have asked Russia for help "in repelling the aggression of the armed forces and formations of Ukraine," and this could be the pretext Putin needs to start a full-scale invasion of the country, Western officials warn. There are about 200,000 Russian troops stationed near the Ukraine border, and a Pentagon official on Wednesday said nearly all of the forces are in their final position for combat.

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"Your leadership has approved them to move forward onto the territory of another country," Zelensky said. "This step could become the start of a big war on the European continent."

Zelensky revealed he attempted to speak to Putin on the phone Wednesday, but the call went nowhere. "If the leadership of Russia does not want to sit at the table with us to make peace, perhaps it will sit at the table with you," Zelensky said. "Does Russia want a war? I would very much like an answer to this question. But that answer depends only on you, citizens of the Russian Federation."

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