A Message from Ukraine
‘We Are All the President Now’
Inaugural address to the Ukrainian Parliament
Kyiv, 20 May 2019
After I was elected, my six-year-old son said, ‘Dad, they say on TV that Zelensky is the President. Does that mean I’m the President too?’
At the time it sounded funny, but later I realised that it was true. Because each of us is the President. Not just the 73 per cent who voted for me, but all 100 per cent of Ukrainians. This is not just my victory; it is our common victory. And it is a common opportunity for which we are all responsible.
Because it isn’t just me who has taken the oath. Every one of us has just put a hand on the Constitution and sworn allegiance to Ukraine.
Now, imagine the headlines if that were the case. ‘The President Does Not Pay His Taxes’. ‘The President Ran a Red Light While Drunk’. Or perhaps, ‘The President is Quietly Stealing Because that’s What Everyone Else Does’. Wouldn’t that be shameful? This is what I mean when I say that each of us is the President. Building Ukraine is a responsibility we all share. From now on, it is down to all of us to create the country that we want to leave to our children.
For if we are to be a European country, that Europeanness begins with each one of us. We have chosen a path that leads to Europe, but Europe is not somewhere ‘out there’. Europe is here, in the mind. And after it appears there, it will appear everywhere in Ukraine.
That is our common dream. But we also share a common pain. Each of us has died in Donbas. Each of us is a refugee. Each of us is a migrant worker. And each of us is the one living in poverty.
But we will get through it. Because each of us is also a Ukrainian.
There are no greater or lesser citizens of this nation. From Uzhhorod to Luhansk, Chernihiv to Simferopol, Lviv to Kharkiv, Donetsk to Dnipro to Odesa, we are all Ukrainians. And we must stand as one. For we are only strong when we are united.
So today, I appeal to Ukrainians all around the world. There are 65 million of us. Ukrainians in Europe and Asia, in North and South America, Australia and Africa—I appeal to you all. We need you. I will gladly grant citizenship to anyone who is ready to build a new, strong and successful Ukraine. Come not to visit, but to return home. Don’t come bearing souvenirs from abroad; simply bring your knowledge, experience and values.
This will in turn help us start a new era. Sceptics will say this is impossible, a fantasy. But what if that is precisely what defines us as a nation: to unite and achieve the impossible, against all odds?
Some of you will remember when the Icelandic soccer team qualified for the 2016 European Championship. A dentist, a director, a pilot, a student and a cleaner all came together to defend their country’s pride. No one believed they could do it, but they did.
This should be our path too. We must become the Icelanders in soccer, the Israelis in the defence of their land, the Japanese in technology, and the Swiss in their ability to live together in harmony.
Our first task, though, is to achieve a ceasefire in Donbas. I have often been asked, What price are you prepared to pay for the ceasefire? It’s a strange question. What price are you ready to pay for the lives of your loved ones? I am ready to pay any price to stop the deaths of our heroes. I am ready to give up my fame, my poll ratings—if need be, my position. The only thing I will not give up is our territory.
History is unfair. We are not the ones who started this war. But we are the ones who must finish it. And we are ready for dialogue to do so.
The first step will be the return of all Ukrainian prisoners. Our next step will be securing the ‘return’ of the lost territories. This term does not seem entirely correct to me, because it is impossible to return what has always been ours. Both Crimea and Donbas are Ukrainian land.
But it is land where we have lost the most important thing: the minds of the people who live there. And we need to win them back. Over the years, the authorities have done nothing to make the people of Crimea and Donbas feel like Ukrainians; to understand that they are not strangers, but our people.
Even if they were granted ten different passports from ten different countries, that fact wouldn’t change. Being Ukrainian is not a line in the passport. Being Ukrainian is here, in the heart.