Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said early Thursday that he tried to speak by phone with his Russian counterpart but was met with “silence.”
“Today I initiated a telephone call to the president of the Russian Federation (Vladimir Putin). The result was silence, though silence should be in the Donbas,” Zelenskyy said in an address in Russian to “all citizens of Russia.”
Speaking to the Russian nation “not as a president but as a citizen of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy recalled that over 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) of common border separates the two countries, adding that around 200,000 Russian troops and thousands of military vehicles stand by the border line.
“Your leadership has approved their step forward onto the territory of another country, and this step may become the start of a big war in the European continent,” he said.
He stressed that “any provocation, any spark” may be a reason for that.
“A spark can burn everything down. You are told that this flame will bring liberation to the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free. They remember their own past and build their own future,” he said.
“You are told that we are Nazis. But how can a people support Nazis that gave more than 8 million lives for the victory over Nazism?”
“You are told we hate Russian culture. How can one hate a culture?…Neighbors always enrich each other culturally. However, that doesn’t make them a single whole, it doesn’t dissolve us into you. We are different, but that is not a reason to be enemies,” he added.
Zelenskyy emphasized that the people and authorities of Ukraine want peace, “they want it and are doing everything they can for it.”
“We don’t need war. But if we are attacked, if someone attempts to take away our land, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. We won’t attack, but defend ourselves. By attacking, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces,” he added.
He went on to say that war means “pain, mud, blood and the death of thousands, tens of thousands of deaths.”
“You are told that Ukraine is a threat to Russia. It was not in the past, it is not now, and it won’t be in the future,” he asserted.
Noting that war will “remove guarantees from everyone,” Zelenskyy said no one will have security guarantees any more.
“Who will suffer most of all from this? People. Who wants this the least? People. Who can’t allow this to happen? People. There are these people among you,” he said.
“I know this speech of mine won’t be shown on Russian television, but the people of Russia need to see it. They need to know the truth. The truth is that this must be stopped before it is too late, and if the leadership of the Russia…does not want to sit down at a table for peace with us, then maybe it will sit down at a table with you.”
Putin announced Monday that Moscow was recognizing the two eastern Ukrainian breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as “independent” states, followed quickly by sending forces to “maintain peace.”
The announcements drew widespread global condemnation as violations of the UN Charter and international law, with Western countries announcing new sanctions on Russia.
In 2014, after invading Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Moscow began to support separatist forces in eastern Ukraine against the central government, a policy that it has maintained since then. The conflict has taken more than 13,000 lives, according to the UN.
Putin’s latest moves follow Russia’s amassing of 100,000 troops and heavy equipment in and around its neighbor, with the US and other Western countries accusing it of setting the stage for an invasion.
Russia has denied that it is preparing an invasion and instead claims that the West has undermined its security through NATO’s expansion toward its borders.