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Zelensky: The World’s Most Influential People Should Be Using Their Influence to Defend Freedom

8 minute read
Volodymyr Zelensky is the President of Ukraine

Editor’s note: Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, made a video address to the TIME100 Gala on Wednesday in New York City. The video will air on TIME100: The World’s Most Influential People Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.

Here are his remarks, published in full.

Ladies and gentlemen, greetings from Ukraine, and thank you for the opportunity to address you.

When I learned that I was [voted] the most influential person [in the TIME100 Reader Poll], I took it as a recognition of [what] all of our people are doing—all Ukrainians who are defending the freedom and independence of our state. And I’m honored above all to be a leader for these people.

Besides myself, this year’s top five features Elon Musk, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson, medical workers who fought with COVID, and President of the United States Joe Biden. This ranking is made at a time when Europe is experiencing the worst war in 77 years—the war we cannot stop yet.

Why so? Why can we not stop the bloodshed? Why is our influence not working at full capacity? And why is a person who is not on our list at all holding millions of people hostage? I believe you will agree that these questions are now literally hanging in the air. But do you have the answers?

Read More: TIME 100 Most Influential People of 2022

The runner-up of our top list, top of the most influential, is Elon Musk: a man who launches rockets into space and knows how to amaze the world, a man who pushes the boundaries of the possible for both intelligence and technology.

But the opinions of world leaders are not focused on Elon, not on his rockets, which ensure progress in life. Opinions of world leaders are [directed] to those who launch rockets at civilians and destroy lives. In 105 days of full-scale war, Russia has used about 2,600 different missiles against Ukrainian cities, most of them against civilian facilities, enterprises, railways, bridges, universities, even residential buildings.

One of those rockets killed three people in our city of Odesa at once: a three-month old girl named Kira, her mother, and grandmother. Three generations of one family. Kira was only a month old when Russia started a full blown war. What did she see in her life? And what did her assassination add to Russia’s influence?

At the beginning of this war, I spoke with Elon. He asked me what he could do to help. And help he did. Thanks to his technologies, we can provide our people with stable [Internet], even when Russian missiles destroyed all infrastructure.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky visits the positions of Ukrainian troops located in the Bakhmut city and Lysychansk districts, Ukraine on June 5, 2022.Ukrainian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

But are there any world leaders who are worried about whether or not Elon will pick up the phone when they call him, or those who worry whether he will accept them? Are there leaders who think about how long the table will be when Elon Musk sits down to talk to them? So what does the [influence] really give? What rockets? Those that serve science or those that serve death? Something has definitely slipped out of control, whether it’s our own influence, which we begin to underestimate or our attitude to leadership, [the] attitude [of] what it means to be a leader.

I have so much respect for Boris Johnson. He is a true friend of Ukraine, and a staunch defender of freedom. But unfortunately, not all depends on him whether millions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America will have food on their tables. It is the Russian fleet—not the British one or any other—that has blocked Ukraine’s Black Sea ports so that the world is on the brink of a terrible food crisis. And it’s not simply a price crisis. We cannot export our wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other products that have played a stabilizing role in the global market. This means that, unfortunately, dozens of countries may face a physical shortage of food. Millions of people may starve if Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea continues.

Read More: Inside Volodymyr Zelensky’s World

We are constantly talking to Boris and other leaders on how to lift the Russian blockade of our ports, and how to restore the freedom of navigation—one of the basic freedoms of all humankind. But while we are looking for ways to protect freedom, a different person is destroying it. A different person continues to blackmail the world with hunger. He is different in every sense of the word, particularly in the way this person is fighting for influence. And I have a question: why is this otherness still acceptable to certain leaders and countries?

I leave this question to you, because in fact, everyone has to answer it. First of all, for themselves, to feel deep inside what are called values. Do they exist?

It is only fair that the medical workers who fought against COVID have been noted this year in the TIME vote. They really are the healers of their time. And with their conscientious work, they have encouraged the whole world to unite—finally, to unite. At first, indifferent countries thought that it was enough to just close the borders and provide themselves—themselves first—with a vaccine. But later it became clear that COVID-19 has no borders, and cannot be dealt with only within national borders. Even the most advanced healthcare systems were not ready for the virus.

Nancy Pelosi Meets In Kyiv With Ukrainian President Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation on April 30, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/Handout via Getty Images

Unfortunately, they had to go through a grievous injustice fighting with COVID-19 to find a vaccine, to agree on common rules of response, a global mechanism for the distribution of vaccines. Why is this happening again? Why is it so difficult to get?

Weapons and sanctions are also a vaccine: a vaccine against COVID-22 brought by Russia. Hatred is a virus, and it’s even more deadly than COVID-19. It is spread through propaganda—thanks to the impunity for murderers, thanks to Russian oil, which is still on the global market, thanks to money that is still flowing between the global financial system and Russian banks, thanks to the big companies which still believe that there is not enough blood on the money from the Russian market, although tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been forced to flee their homes because of this war.

When hatred knocks on your door, will you be ready? Will any face masks protect you from the Russian COVID-22? And why is the vaccine against it—weapons and sanctions—so difficult to get in sufficient quantities? Why do certain countries pretend as if COVID-22 does not exist? Just like for conspiracy theorists, there was no COVID-19. Why do some people learn nothing even from blood and death?

Read More: What the West Can Do to Stop Putin

I’m grateful to President Biden for uniting the free world when the Russian threat arose. Today, we have different tools to respond. These are defense support for Ukraine, financial aid, and political coordination among many countries. It is also the Lend-Lease [Act], which brings back the meaning of the struggle for freedom that was relevant during World War Two, because the current threat is similar in scale.

However, Russia’s war against Ukraine is still ongoing and right now, as you’re listening to my address, Ukrainian military are dying on the battlefield. The Russian army is shelling our cities with artillery and aircraft. The list of children killed by Russian strikes since Feb. 24 already includes more than 260 names.

And when will this end?

In fact, this is the key question. But why is there still no answer? Why is our influence not enough for this? Are we cowards? No. Maybe we’re missing something in our true strength. Maybe we are not using all the capacity of our influence and our leadership. This is my question to the United States, to the parties, to society, to Democrats and Republicans, to Congress and the President.

It is time to be 100% influential. We can defeat tyranny. Indeed, everyone of us—everyone—is the leader of our time. We can reliably defend freedom. We can stop blackmail from a person who has no place on our list at all. If we are up to it, then we must do it, because influence obliges us to do so.

Thank you. Glory to Ukraine.

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