Updated Feb 23, 2022 - World

Zelensky delivers impassioned address ahead of invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Stefanie Loos-Pool/Getty

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an impassioned address on Wednesday night that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an invasion of his country but that if Russia attacks, "you will see our faces, not our backs."

The latest: Hours after the speech, Putin invaded Ukraine — including attacking the capital, Kyiv — in an overnight barrage that was swift, broad and ruthless.

  • Ukraine entered a state of emergency on Wednesday as the Pentagon warned that Russia's preparations for invasion appeared to be complete, and Ukrainian citizens prepared for war.
  • After Putin's speech, explosions were heard in cities including Kyiv.

What he's saying: In the final hours before the invasion began, Zelensky revealed that he had tried to call Putin but been met with "silence." He addressed the Russian people in Russian to make an appeal for peace, while acknowledging the need to prepare for war.

  • After Putin's invasion order, the smallest spark could start a "big war" and "burn everything down," he said, adding: "You are told that this flame will liberate the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free."
  • Zelensky said the Russian people have been told he and his citizens are Nazis, despite the fact that his grandfather fought the Nazis in the Soviet infantry.
  • He said Russians have falsely been told both that Ukrainians hate Russian culture and have no culture of their own. "We are different, but that is not a reason to be enemies," he said.
  • He said Ukraine had never been and never will be a threat to Russia, and while Russia would never allow his speech to be shown on Russian television, "the people of Russia need to see it."

Between the lines: Zelensky's speech was a clear rebuttal to Putin's combative and historically revisionist hour-long address on Monday, in which he effectively asserted Russia's right to bend Ukraine to its will and erase its independence.

  • Zelensky spent weeks downplaying the risk of an imminent invasion in order to avoid panic, but has now adopted the tone of a president preparing his country for war.

Go deeper: The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of Putin's declaration.

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