Apr 17, 2022 - World

Zelensky if he doesn’t survive: “Definitely not a hero”

A mother kisses a photo of her son as he was buried after being killed fighting the Russians in eastern Ukraine.
Olena Siksoy kisses a picture of her son, Ukrainian soldier Ruslan Siksoy, during his burial Sunday at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, Ukraine. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Amid the most personal of religious holidays, and as Ukraine defied Russia's demands to surrender besieged Mariupol, Volodymyr Zelensky offered an epitaph in case he doesn't survive the war:

What he's saying: "A human being that loved life to the fullest and loved his family and loved his motherland — definitely not a hero," he told CNN for an interview taped over Passover weekend and airing Easter Sunday. "I want people to take me as I am: a regular human."

Why it matters: Zelensky's evolution from comic to Ukrainian president has only been upstaged by his emergence as a world leader.

  • That was on display in the interview as he invited and predicted an eventual visit from President Biden and framed the stakes for his nation around biblical themes of freedom, sacrifice, exodus and resurrection.
  • Asked to name his own heroes, Zelensky singled out his power base: "Only the people."
  • "I understand I have to be the strongest one in this situation ... and the most important is the way my children look at me. They have to be proud of me. This is the most important thing. I do everything for this."

Between the lines: Since the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24, Ukrainians have been subjected to an onslaught that's killed unknown thousands of soldiers and civilians.

  • Zelensky acknowledged seeing video of a mother finding her son dead in a well — and confessed to the rage it triggered in him. "This is the most horrifying thing I have seen in my life," he said.
  • "We can all work on how to rebuild apartments and houses and compensate them. How do you compensate for the loss of a child? I don't think anyone in the world has an answer for that. There is a desire for justice through revenge and that at least the people who did this would feel the same pain."

What they're saying: In more political comments, he bashed fellow leaders for saying "never again" in terms of the Holocaust even as Russia grinds through Ukraine. "I don't believe the world," Zelensky said.

  • "If you are our friends or partners, give us weapon, give us hand, give us — support us, give us money, and stop Russia, kick Russia."
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