‘I won’t give up,’ Zelensky tells students

President Zelensky told students he will need the younger generation to rebuild the country

10 June 2022

President Zelensky addressed student Ukrainian societies on Friday pledging that he would not give up or “concede” territory to Russia.

He spoke to Ukrainian 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 the country once victory was assured.

Matt Frei of Channel 4 News asked President Zelensky whether there was a stage where he would need to cede territory to the Russians given the loss of life in the eastern Donbas region.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
President Zelensky told the students he would not give up or ‘concede’ to Russia (Jacob King/PA)

He also asked what he felt about Finland and Sweden gaining NATO membership.

President 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.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine
The president answered questions from students of Ukrainian societies at UK universities. (Jacob King/PA)

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, he said that the first regatta had taken place between Cambridge and Oxford on 10th June 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”.

“107 days we have been tested for survival and resilience, every day we pass the Cambridge test in the Tripos, but we have to listen 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.”

Two students wear Ukrainian flags
Ukrainian students Pavlo Denysenko and Snizhana Berezhna at Coventry University, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed students as part of a live broadcast to a number of UK universities (Jacob King/PA)

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.”

He 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.

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