BILD’s Vice Chief Editor Paul Ronzheimer met Zelensky in Kyiv for an exclusive interview.
BILD: Mr. President, people in Germany are asking themselves: how do you keep it up, do you ever sleep?
Volodymyr Zelensky: "In all the occupied areas of the country and also where our yellow-blue flag is still flying, people don't sleep much. We have been defending our country for two weeks already.”
We see numerous videos of your wife and family. You are on Moscow's death list. What does that do to your family?
Zelensky: "They are proud of me. They are proud that we are Ukrainians. They understand that I could have escaped long ago or be safe. But they understand me and support my decision. Because it is a decision for our country. They want Kyiv to stay strong.
Of course, as humans, they worry about me, but their hearts are always with me.
It is the history of our country and we are living in this moment. Later we will remember how difficult that time was and how bad it was for every single person in our country now. But we will remember much more the moments when we changed something.
Our goal is to strengthen our country, no matter how difficult it gets. I’m doing this for my children and my grandchildren. I don't want to be a weak man."
The world wonders how close the Russians are – maybe days, hours from Kyiv. How bad is Kyiv surrounded? How bad are you surrounded, Mr. President?
Zelensky: "What, me?!
The access roads to Kyiv are blocked. But we are here. And you can assess the situation in Kyiv personally, Mr. Ronzheimer.
I don't worry where the enemy is hiding or how close he got to us. I worry about our country, about water supplies, about food supplies. About Mariupol, Donetsk, Zaporozhia region, Melitopol, Volnovakha, Kharkiv – the situation is terrible there. The people have no water and food there. What is happening now in Mariupol is a humanitarian catastrophe. Humanitarian aid convoys were sent from various cities of our country. But they are being shot at, and the Russian soldiers won't let them through. We have very brave drivers who keep going despite the shelling.
Yesterday we agreed to work with the Red Cross.
I understand that, as human beings, we always worry about our own lives. Nevertheless, we must put humanitarian aid first.
We don't have any universal solutions here or steps we can take right now. We’re seeing real terror in our history.”
I'm afraid that Kyiv will be surrounded. Are you not afraid?
Zelensky: "I'm not afraid. Also, afraid of what? I must not be afraid, I remain calm. Do you know how someone can overcome their fear? What can be worse than fear?
What's the worst that could happen? With their country, with my country?
The worst that could happen has already happened. We have a war, Russia against Ukraine. So many people have already fallen. The country is being destroyed.
What worse could happen to people who have lost their children?
But we believe in the future. We will not give up, we will not sell out our land."
Germany still opposes an embargo on oil and gas imports from Russia. Are you disappointed in Chancellor Olaf Scholz and in the German people for not supporting you anymore?
Zelensky: "I cannot judge Germany’s actions. The government thinks first and foremost of its own country – and that goes without saying. Many people in Germany support Ukraine. The Chancellor's government was elected by the people and I think we have to be more restrained. We’re seeing some steps that Germany is supporting us with – Nord Stream 2, sanctions, and so on. We see what Germany is doing.
I don't want to judge Mr. Scholz and his government. I will do that afterwards, when we see the results of that time and see how the war ends, how many victims it brings.
For us, every minute is precious, every minute people can die.
I just got the news that a maternity hospital in Mariupol was attacked. I still have no information about victims. But I really hope that people were able to find shelter. How can such a thing happen? These are beasts, causing something like this. What's going on in their heads?
If a missile hit a maternity hospital in Germany, what would happen then? Imagine yourself in our situation – we would discuss and negotiate.
This is our pain TODAY and I need the solution TODAY.”
And what about EU membership?
Zelensky: “The governments that do not support our membership in the EU point to reforms that are still to happen. They don't see us as equals. I still have a lot of unanswered questions."
Many people complain about the high gas and oil prices. Why is it still important that we boycott Russian gas and oil?
Zelensky: “You know, there are certain values that are very difficult to explain until there is a war in your own country. Then you no longer think about reforms. You don't think about wanting to buy anything or about regulations, about price increases on gas or electricity. You no longer think about saving to go on vacation. You no longer think about the fact that taxes increase every year. All of that fades into the background when war breaks out and it’s not a priority anymore.
That's not the true value of life. The true value of life is that you live, you don't get murdered.
And that is what Europe must do: defend average lives and also put true values first.
I wish that your priorities in life remain true values.
What is happening to us now could also happen to you.
And that is very important to me: we’re dying for you, too.”
What do you say to the demand to accept the independence of Donbas and accept that Crimea goes to Russia? What are you willing to give up for peace?
Zelensky: “The question here is not what I can give up. In every negotiation, my goal is to end the war with Russia. And I'm also ready to take certain steps.
Compromises can be made, but they must not be about betraying my country. And the other side must also be willing to make compromises – that's why they're called compromises. This is the only way we can get out of this situation. We can't talk about any details yet. We haven't had direct contact between presidents yet. Only after the direct talks between the two presidents can we end this war.”
What do you tell your children when they ask you: Dad, we have to get out of Ukraine?
Zelensky: “My children say I should stay here. But they shouldn't waste the wonderful time of their childhood trying to convince their father to leave their own country."