Exclusive: Zelensky says Ukraine won’t give up territory in the east to end war with Russia

(CNN) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that Ukraine is not willing to cede territory in the eastern part of the country to end the war with Russia, and that the Ukrainian army is ready to fight Moscow’s army in the Donbass region in a battle which he believes could influence the course of the whole war.

Zelensky said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper from the president’s Kyiv office on Friday that his country had no guarantee that Russia would not try to take over Kyiv again if it was able to capture Donbass. .

“That’s why it’s very important for us not to allow them to hold on, because this battle…can influence the course of the whole war,” Zelensky said.

“Because I don’t trust the Russian military and the Russian leadership,” he continued. “That’s why we understand that the fact that we repelled them and they left, and that they were fleeing kyiv – from the north, from Chernihiv and from that direction – does not mean that they are able to capture Donbass, they will come no further to kyiv.”

Zelensky’s interview with CNN on Friday, more than seven weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, comes as Ukraine’s military has seen successes resisting the Russian offensive that caught the services by surprise. American intelligence – and a Kremlin that had planned for quick intervention and decisive victory.

At the same time, Ukraine suffered horrific civilian casualties across the country in the middle of the fighting. Zelensky told CNN the world should be prepared for the possibility of Putin using a tactical nuclear weapon because he places no value on Ukrainian lives. Zelensky spoke in Ukrainian and English about the horrors his country has witnessed and the urgent help his army still needs to be equipped to repel the coming Russian offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden said last week that the killings of civilians by Russian forces seemed like genocide.

“I have the same opinion as President Biden,” Zelensky said. “Look what happened in Bucha. It’s clear that it’s not even a war, it’s genocide. They just killed people. Not soldiers, people. They just shot people. people in the streets. People were riding bikes, taking the bus or just walking the streets. There were dead bodies along the streets.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who diplomatically engaged Putinsaid in response to Biden’s comments about the genocide that he didn’t think it was constructive to elevate the rhetoric. Zelensky said he spoke to Macron last week and wanted him to travel to Ukraine to see the atrocities first hand.

“I think he wants to take steps to make sure that Russia engages in dialogue. I just told him that I wanted him to understand that this is not a war, but nothing but a genocide,” Zelensky said. “I invited him to come when he gets the chance. He’ll come and see, and I’m sure he’ll understand.”

Zelensky said he also wants Biden to come to Ukraine. The US president suggested last week that he wanted to go, although he said US officials were still ‘in discussions’ on whether a senior US official will visit Ukraine.

“I think he will,” Zelensky said of Biden when asked if there were any plans for the US president’s visit. “I mean, his decision, of course. And also, the security situation depends on – I mean that – but I think he’s the leader of the United States, and that’s why he should come here. to see.”

Zelensky was moved talking about the death that the war has caused in Ukraine, saying it is “great pain for me” to see the lives lost. Zelensky, who lost family in the Holocaust, was asked how he felt about politicians around the world saying “never again” on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, given what is happening in his country.

“I don’t believe the world,” he said in English. “We don’t believe the words. After the escalation of Russia, we don’t believe our neighbors. We don’t believe any of this.”

“The only belief there is is belief in ourselves, in our people, belief in our armed forces and belief that countries are going to support us not only with their words but also with their actions,” continued Zelensky in Ukrainian. “And that’s it. Never again. Really, everyone is talking about it and yet, as you can see, not everyone has the guts.”

More help needed

Zelensky said that $800 million in additional funding Biden’s endorsement last week of going to Ukraine for new, more advanced weapons was helpful — but more was needed.

“Of course we need more. But I’m glad he’s helping us now,” Zelensky said. “I feel like right now we have a cleaner dialogue. It’s a dialogue that has had twists and turns. And not just talking. It’s been very, very difficult because there’s no many countries that have really helped us.”

Zelensky said the most important factor was the speed of getting the necessary weapons into the hands of Ukrainian forces. He dismissed some concerns expressed by the United States and other countries that Ukrainian soldiers are not trained to use some of the weapons the country requests.

“There are people who come up with solutions, but it seems like they’re only serving themselves. So it’s precisely not ours,” Zelensky said. “We are ready to use any type of equipment, but it has to be delivered very quickly. And we have the ability to learn how to use new equipment. But it has to come quickly.”

Zelensky said he was ready to engage diplomatically with Russia to try to end the war, but that Russia’s attacks on Ukrainians made it more difficult.

“As I said before, what is the price of all of this? These are people. The many people who have been killed. And who ends up paying for all of this? It’s Ukraine. Just us,” Zelensky said. “So for us it’s a really huge cost. If there’s an opportunity to talk, we’ll talk. But to talk only under a Russian ultimatum? Then it’s a matter of attitude towards us, not whether the dialogue is ‘Good or Bad.’ It’s impossible.”

Acknowledging that he still has a target on the Kremlin’s back as the war rages on, Zelensky was asked how he would like to be remembered.

“A human being who loved life to the fullest,” he replied. “And loved his family and loved his country. Certainly not a hero. I want people to take me for who I am. An ordinary human.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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