Volodymyr Zelensky has addressed student Ukrainian societies across the UK pledging that he would not give up or “concede”. territory to Russia.
Ukraine’s president spoke to student societies at Birmingham University, Coventry, London School of Economics, UCL, City of London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Glasgow and Manchester over video-link and urged them to help rebuild his country once victory was assured.
Moderator Matt Frei, from Channel 4 News, asked President Zelensky whether there was a stage of the invasion where he would need to cede territory to the Russians given the loss of life in the eastern Donbas region.
He also how he felt about Finland and Sweden gaining Nato membership.
Mr Zelensky said: “First of all, I’d like to say I’m very happy for Finland and Sweden. I believe that’s a very wise choice, although unfortunately that choice was made because of the war that started in Ukraine.”
“It will help them to defend their people in case of Russian aggression,” he said.
He added that if Ukraine had been able to join Nato, “that would be able to save a lot of lives”.
“There would be a fight for the independence of Ukraine but there would be not so many losses.”
“I truly believe we would be able to save a lot of lives so that makes me sort of frustrated or angry.”
He added: “Throughout my presidentship, I clearly understand and understood that every war has to finish at the table of negotiations and I understand that diplomacy can save lives, I understand this. But unfortunately the president of Russian Federation doesn’t understand this, and that’s it.
“You need both parties willing to stop the war between their countries otherwise it’s not going to work.
“The interpretation (of your question) sounded like ‘what are you ready to concede, or to give up’ – I’d like to say that there’s this independence of our country and there’s not anything that we can concede.”
In his address to students, Mr Zelensky said that the first regatta had taken place between Cambridge and Oxford on June 10 almost 200 years ago, a “symbolic fact”.
“I can compare this with Ukraine, with us swimming against the current and our country trying to fight the Russian warships, and we would like to feel like we’re not alone, like all the countries of the free world are in the same boat.”
He said he had prepared for the meeting by reading about the history and traditions of the universities he was speaking to “for us to speak the same language”.
“One hundred and seven days we have been tested for survival and resilience, every day we pass the Cambridge test in the Tripos, but we have to listen (to) aerial sirens for 107 days, we have been opposing the barbarians.”
Quoting George Bernard Shaw, he said: “We have a problem of an enemy who didn’t ever read Bernard Shaw, one of the founders of the London School of Economics – we can fly like birds, we can swim like fish, but the only thing missing is to live on this planet like human beings.”
“They talk about peaceful wars, their goals are peaceful cities and villages – they’re killing children and women.”
He said that 80 years ago, Manchester survived the Christmas bombing, and “this year, Ukraine had Easter bombing – 80 years ago, Nazi invaders would ruin Coventry, this year, Russia’s created in the territory of Ukraine tons of Coventries.”
He said that students of Edinburgh University had recently “exposed their professor (Tim Hayward) – he was repeating the Russian narratives” and “this signals like hundreds of other signals… the war in Ukraine is not something you do not care about – this war is visible and monstrous.”
Prof Hayward, who specialises in environmental political theory, in March retweeted a Russian government official who branded the Mariupol maternity ward attack “fake news”, and added: “As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so.”
He later told the PA news agency: “I recognise propaganda can abound on all sides. I am not pro-Russia and emphatically not pro-Putin. For all that, though, having learned lessons from Iraq WMD (weapons of mass destruction) lies and others since, I believe that citizens should keep a watchful eye on information that can be used to escalate tensions and war. I have not repeated any narrative.”
Mr Zelensky told the University of Glasgow that for universities located in occupied areas it was a “tragedy”.
“All your life, your school, your university, everything is either damaged or captured by the enemy – we are proposing different techniques. Some universities were moved and reallocated.”
He added that free tuition was being provided for all students with no limits on acceptance for places through tests or examinations.
For Ukrainian students studying abroad, he said: “First of all we have to restore our territory… because we want to rebuild our country.
As territory was regained, he said: “We will start rebuilding all the educational institutions… so that people can go back to school, back to kindergarten, school, university for the students.”
He added in response to UCL’s Ukrainian society’s question about a “brain drain” of young Ukrainians: “There’s a lot of painful aspects in our history because of which we’ve lost the most precious thing we have, the smart people.
“When we will be victorious, we will build a new country… you’re something like 20 years old, 19 years old – you’re a young person, a student – I can’t build a comfortable state for you without you.”
“You are representing our state – you are ambassadors of our academy here,” he told the students.
Coventry dentistry student Snizhana Berezhnaya said: “I’m very proud to hear from him (that he will not give up) and I think it’s part of our culture in Ukraine to never give up – and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Ukraine right now or abroad, you should always remember that you need to hope for the best and keep working and never give up.”
She added: “The world gives opportunities to come to different countries and see what it’s like to study abroad and I am more than confident that we will come back and rebuild the country especially after such international support.”