Volodymyr Zelensky: Ukraine must fight on, Ukrainians must fight

Volodymyr Zelensky: Ukraine must fight on, Ukrainians must fight

Ukrinform has put together the main excerpts from today’s big press conference by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

On December 19, Volodymyr Zelensky gave his third major press conference since Russia’s full-scale invasion. At the two-hour event that was held in the capital city of Kyiv and lasted two hours, the head of state spoke to journalists about the hottest topics of the past days and months. Those included efforts to repel Russia’s onslaught, the latest battlefield developments, the main priorities and challenges Ukraine will face in 2024, current relations with partners, military and financial aid, and generally the issues related to international support for Ukraine, which is currently being undermined by internal political squabbles in the US and within the EU.

This is what President Zelensky said, in short.


“I would like to praise our partners and our Air Force of Ukraine. What’s happening with the strengthening of our air defense is very important. This winter is different, with losses and challenges. But we are getting stronger and more powerful. I had a serious trip. Several new Patriot systems will arrive in Ukraine to protect our country this winter. This is a very important result,” said the president.

"I promised not to reveal the numbers while they keep protecting us. But I’d like to thank my partners. Both Patriot and NASAMS systems form a powerful package," Zelensky noted.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive

"As for the reduction of (Western - ed.) aid and whether it had an impact. Uncontrolled sky on Ukraine’s part affected our southern operation in 2023. We have no control of the sky, we have no sufficient amount of ammunition. But this doesn’t mean we will not find a way out, or that we haven’t already found one. But to this end, we need support because some things we simply don't have. We’re working on it," said Zelensky.

According to the president, military tactics may change after the outcome of Ukraine’s efforts in the country's south in 2023 are taken into account.

"The strategy cannot be changed, according to our Constitution - these are all our territories. (…) We will see things clear by the end of the year but we will for now reserve information on our next plans and next steps, I'm sorry," the president added.

At the same time, President Zelensky said Ukraine had not achieved the desired results during the summer counteroffensive. "We wanted to get quicker results. From this point of view, unfortunately, we did not achieve the desired results. And this is a fact."

According to the president, Ukraine had not received all the required weapons sytems from its allies, and limited capabilities do not allow for running an offensive.


Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized the fact that any discussions of Ukraine's “defeat” are off the table since Russia failed to achieve any of its military objectives set for 2023.

"As for the battlefield situation, Russia has not achieved any results over this year. I am not talking of the past year, 2022, I am talking 2023. None of the objectives. This, by the way, is also confirmed by the fact that the Kremlin's messaging hasn’t changed, their “special military operation” objectives remain the same and they are clear: the occupation of our state, and then there was the objective that they were changing in their rhetoric: advancing to the administrative borders of Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine – ed.)/ They never achieved this either. Therefore, there’s no sense to claim any “defeat” (on the part of Ukraine - ed.). Russia did not prevail. (Seizing Kyiv in – ed.) three days? What are you talking about?... Two years! Our soldiers dare doing a good job, our people are doing a good job. I once again thank them for that."

Ukraine will not lose the war even if support from international partners continues to decline, Zelensky believes.

"No, I don't think so. We were in the most difficult situation and we were almost completely occupied, at least our country’s central regions... We were under a full blockade. We got out of this, and perhaps it’s people, God, our partners, I don't know who else, but all of that helped... Now we have a different situation. And I agree that we’re facing challenges – we need so much more aid in terms of artillery rounds, ATGMs, artillery systems, especially 185mm, repairing these systems, delivering them, etc., but the hubs are being deployed little by little..." Zelensky stressed.

Country’s main achievements in 2023

Ukraine’s main achievement is "preserving our country’s yellow-blue flag," said the president of Ukraine. The second important achievement is the historic victory of our country’s “Europeanness” and getting closer to achieving justice.

The [resident emphasized Ukraine’s major sacrifices on its path toward the European Union. "We are fighting for our future ourselves, not for the future that Russia seeks to choose for us. A historic victory for Ukraine is very serious. We went through two waves - the launch of negotiations on joining the EU and a full-scale war."

Security guarantees

President Zelensky spoke of the progress the country has made in obtaining "security guarantees" from its partners. The leader stressed that earlier on Tuesday, he had another conversation with partners precisely on this issue.

"This is an ongoing process. It goes a bit slower than I expected. We just spoke with the team today on security guarantees, on the ways to get closer to the relevant decision. A lot depends on us in this respect. We very often blame our partners for certain issues, but we must be fair – a lot depends on us, too," he said.

According to Zelensky, Ukraine's task is to properly convey its vision to partners. This has not yet been achieved, but globally, in the matter of guarantees, the ball is on the Ukrainian pitch, he emphasized.

The end of war

"Will the war end in 2024? I don't think anyone knows the answer. Even when our respected Western partners talk about (the war potentially lasting – ed.) for years, they don’t know... Opinions often differ from reality... War, victory, defeat, stagnation – they all depend on many decisions, directions, and risks, but mostly on all of us. If we don’t lose our resilience, we will end the war earlier than that. If we do much more than each of us can, I’m sure we’ll be able to bring victory closer," Zelensky said.

The vision of victory

"Someone started suggesting, 'Come on, right here, where we are now, it's already a victory, we haven't been occupied…' When you come to the USA or EU, the fact that Russia failed to destroy us is already a victory for them. I’m skeptical about that," he said.

"Ukraine must fight on, Ukrainians must fight. That’s because no one guarantees that, when tomorrow we reach the line where the onslaught started, which will already be an overly difficult task, what happens next? What security guarantees do we get? Who guarantees we’ll be safe with Russia? It is clear that the farther Russia retreats, the weaker it will be, starting with their leader and ending with their presence on international platforms. This is important, and we must use this time. And God help Ukraine actually get this opportunity."

The Black Sea

The head of state thanked the Security Service operatives, the Ministry of Defense, and the Navy primarily for the great and really important victory in the Black Sea.

"This is part of the ‘southern operation’. Everyone in Ukraine and beyond highly appreciates the effort to deprive Russia’s Navy of total dominance in the Ukrainian Black Sea and the ability to impose on us what we should do and what we should export. This effort ended the blocking of Ukraine's economy, which gives Ukrainian military the opportunity to stand strong on their land. Also, destroying the Russian fleet is forcing them to withdraw from Ukraine’s territorial waters," Zelensky emphasized.

Orbán and Trump

“I never spoke to Orbán about a ceasefire or dialogue with Putin. He may have raised the issue with his friends or leaders abroad. There was something about that in his speech, but it seems off to me. Sometimes his policies are not too friendly to us, and I told him that,” the president said.

During a brief encounter in Argentina, Zelensky asked Orbán why they could not set up a formal bilateral meeting, and "he could not give an answer."

"Ex-US President Donald Trump, if he wins the upcoming elections, will definitely pursue a different policy toward Ukraine. He is a different person. It’s not we, it’s their people who elect a president for themselves. I’m not sure that the country’s policy, the US policy, will change in relation to Ukraine," Zelensky emphasized.

"If the policy of the next president, whoever he may be, is different toward Ukraine, if it’s cooler or more domestic-oriented, more economical, I think these signals will greatly affect the course of the war in Ukraine. That’s because if one powerful spare part falls out, the mechanism starts to crumble."

US and EU aid

According to the president, continued assistance on the part of the US would send a signal to EU member states to provide more aid, too. As for the US assistance, Zelensky said "it seems that aid will come very soon."

"As for financial assistance, we are working very hard. I am sure that the United States will not betray us and that whatever we have agreed on, the United States will fulfill in full... We expect this help, they are aware of the details, what we need, how it will affect things, they are aware of how changing dates affects things. I think I found an understanding with President Biden and senators, we met with both parties. We’ll see, it’s all about the dates."

"As far as the EU is concerned, stakes were high, everyone bet high. We achieved one victory. As for EUR 50 billion, I’m sure, we have already achieved this, too, and the question is now about the relevant timing."

"The de-focus of Ukraine's support on various media platforms, in the information field abroad, affects assistance we’re receiving." According to the president, Russia has succeeded in this regard and this must be admitted. The president added that Russia saw no battlefield gains, but had some in the diplomatic domain.

Ukraine has already sealed long-term financial aid commitments from Belgium, Denmark, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, France, Germany, Sweden, and Japan.

Zelensky said, without specifying the currency in question, that today, "Ukraine has received commitments of 1.7 billion from Belgium 4.2 billion from Denmark, 2.3 billion from South Korea, hundreds of millions from Latvia, Lithuania, and the Netherlands, 7.5 billion from Norway, 2 billion from France, 8 billion from Germany, a little more than half a billion from Sweden, and also there will be multibillion-dollar aid from Japan." According to Zelensky, this multi-year aid is a powerful basis in case any risks arise for Ukraine.

The head of state also noted the importance of German support, the world’s second largest, and thanked the leader of Germany, Olaf Scholz.

"Today he (Scholz - ed.) is seriously helping us. We expect another Patriot system from him personally, and this is a very important decision for us. We understand where it will be deployed, how it will help the region that is fighting for its life every day," Zelensky emphasized.


Work on border fortifications should be standardized and the Kharkiv region should be taken as a solid example.

"First of all, a decision was made not to start, but to continue and strengthen (the work - ed.), and this is very important. There are regional state administrations, which for the most part have been doing all the work since the outset of the war. I emphasize that what they have done and what I see in Kharkiv region – how they have joined efforts with military specialists and construction companies, drew up a budget together with businesses – it is a powerful effort, and I am grateful to them for that," the president said.

Relations with Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi

Volodymyr Zelensky declares that he has a “working relationship” with the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and that is he expects to hear from the command the details of combat missions and defense efforts.

"We need strong steps and results. That's all, that's my attitude. I do not go down the road of complications in terms of personalities. The state of Ukraine is not about personal issues. I plan to keep working, I'm awaiting decisions on mobilization, I'm awaiting decisions so that we help our people on the front lines, I'm awaiting very specific things on the battlefield. The strategy is clear, now I want to see the details."

Polish border blockade

Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Poland for the substantial assistance provided since Russia’s large-scale invasion, but he spoke emotionally about the blocking of borders for the export of Ukrainian products by Ukraine’s western neighbor.

"I believe that you helped us as much as you could, and we stood for you and keep standing, as much as we can. I had a strong relationship with your Cabinet. Then there came the blockade of our borders. See, this is not about business in times of war. Ukraine faced serious difficulties in exporting its goods against the background of Russia’s ongoing large-scale military aggression. It was about survival. We did not have the Black Sea Corridor through which grain could be exported. What do we have if we have no sea. And when we were told to go for a compromise, I asked, what is the compromise? Is the compromise about not all of us surviving, not exporting all the grain? I said, okay, let's not sell grain in Poland, but let it be exported," the president said.

According to Zelensky, in the period from April to September "it was very difficult." "We lost hundreds of millions of dollars, part of the harvest. We sustained losses daily. We began to lose political relations. I emphasize once again, I am grateful to your people, but please understand, I am not being pathetic, I am protecting the interests of my country at war. I said, just let us export it. And they didn't let us export it. And this wasn't right," he emphasized.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hopes that the new Polish government will unblock the border.

"You have a new government ... and I will believe that the new government will remove this whole blockade, which is artificial. We are ready (to make sure – ed.) that people in Poland lose nothing, but the issue of grain must not be politicized," he emphasized.

Arms production

Next year, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be able to get a million drones produced domestically.

"I also have a positive vision toward increasing the production of drones and setting up special units. There must be a management structure for operating drones. It mustn’t be Soviet-style, but instead it must be really simple to deploy quickly."

He said that at the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Staff meeting held recently, the issue of drone production and supply was on top agenda.

"And I really don't enjoy the fact that logistically we still have the bureaucratic Soviet process, where we had 26,000 drones stocked in the warehouse rather than be delivered to the front. It was a very loud Staff meeting, but we must not have such problems ever. I'm just shocked, how can something we produce just not be delivered?... We will tackle the logistical issue. Our soldiers will get domestically produced drones for their brigades. Regarding production, we will produce a million drones next year," he said.

Military draft

At the meeting of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Staff, the military suggested that another 400,000-500,000 people be drafted into the army, and work is currently underway to draw up a concrete plan that will be presented to Parliament: "This is a very serious number so I need more arguments."

"In this mobilization law, you must provide answers to me, to the public, most importantly to the general public. So they started working on this plan. I haven't seen demobilization there yet, although I think that's No. 1 issue. And the question is not how this process is referred to. The main thing is that it be fair to our mighty soldiers," Zelensky added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would not sign off the law on mobilizing women into the army.

"Women - no, I will not sign that. As for (men from the age of – ed.) 25 years, if all the arguments are laid out, and today I see that they need that, then I will agree with it," Zelensky said, answering the question of whether he would sign the law in case it passes Parliament, laying down the norms providing for the mobilization of women, as well as men under 27.

The Peace Formula

"When the leaders' summit is held... there will be an agreement between the countries on the fundamental things with which we will begin to work and prepare the corresponding document. When the document is ready, it will be handed over to representatives of Russia through intermediaries. If they (Russia, - ed.) are ready to accept the document, it will mean that the issue of negotiations is on the table," the president emphasized.

War in Israel

President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine recognizes both the independent people of Israel and the independent people of Palestine. However, he cannot equate the situation in the Gaza Strip with Ukraine's war with Russia.

"Russia's occupation and invasion of Ukraine did not start off with a terrorist attack on Russian soil by people holding Ukrainian citizenship. Nobody did that. We lived in our independent state and the enemy came to us and killed our people."

According to Zelensky, the war in the Middle East is affecting aid to Ukraine, and the world has become unfocused in its consolidation around Ukraine.

"This is a complex issue and it greatly affects the stability of Ukraine. This (war in the Middle East, - ed.) is a tragedy, I understand, but we have a full-scale war here. My condolences to the families of all those who died in that tragedy, Russia has succeeded, it must be admitted, in doing a very serious job... Some countries began to hesitate, balancing as to who to help first, Israel or Ukraine."

As for the trip to the region, Zelensky signaled his readiness at the very outset of the conflict. "Perhaps they had other priorities. I can't play too much with the schedule and my priorities because I'm running a country at war."

Reopening the Boryspil Airport

Boryspil Airport is like the Black Sea. This is a very serious operation. The reopening of Boryspil would be a victory for Ukrainian air defense. This will show that Ukraine is winning and this is very serious, it is a powerful economic step as well... The question of the reopening of Boryspil is being put forward before our colleagues, and Ukraine knows exactly what it needs to this end," said the president.

Personnel issues

President Zelensky says he cannot afford to get rid of anyone from his team at the moment because it will make the state weaker.

"As for my team, if I lose my team, and I have a small one – just five to six managers, we will become weaker. There will be fewer air defense capabilities, less aid. I can't afford it."

President Volodymyr Zelensky agrees that many MPs do not act in line with their status, but at the moment he cannot dissolve the Verkhovna Rada because then elections will have to be held.

"As for our lawmakers, they should only do their job and be moral leaders. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. What can I do as President? I cannot dissolve our Parliament because elections cannot be held amid war."

President Zelensky said that work is currently underway to reduce the expenses of government officials as much as possible.

"I want to cut this government, I have no money. I am working to ensure that more money goes to the front lines. But if there are no people there at all, it will be difficult for us to manage the state."

POW swaps

Zelensky confirmed that the process of POW exchange has slowed down: "Maybe the government really doesn't communicate this issue too well, so I will pass it on to (Ombudsman Dmytro – ed.) Lubinets and (defense intelligence chief Kyrylo – ed.) Budanov. This track is operable but it really slowed down due to reasons originating in Russia, and these are very specific reasons. The track will reopen."

According to Zelensky, the exchange of prisoners of war is a rather complicated issue, especially if it is about prisoners in Crimea. However, he recalled that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised assistance in this matter.

"As for the Crimean residents. This is a complicated story. There is nothing to thank international organizations for as they could not do anything. I worked a lot on this issue with Erdogan. So far, my dear President Erdoğan has not shown results regarding all the prisoners who were in Crimea."

Joining NATO

Ukraine has never received an invitation to partially join NATO. According to the president, Ukraine's accession to NATO is the most powerful option for supporting Ukraine.

"But we are not invited to NATO. Also, signals about partial membership are, frankly, delusional. What for? We have never received such an offer. Never, from any of the partners. And to be honest, it's hard to imagine how this can be done," said Zelensky.

He noted that the accession to NATO "in parts" bears high risks and threatens a direct conflict between the Alliance and Russia, since Kyiv does not recognize the temporarily occupied territories as Russian.

Talks with Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that the issue of negotiations with the Russian Federation is not relevant today, adding that he is seeing no signals from Russia in this regard.

Fighting corruption

Volodymyr Zelensky noted his efforts to get the parliament to vote for all anti-corruption laws: "It is important to me that we fight corruption risks as much as possible. Partners say that the funding they provide for weapons are currently not at risk because reforms are being implemented in Ukraine. Corruption must be prosecuted. It is very important. Law enforcement, anti-corruption agencies, and the SBU will definitely do their job, and we will see fair sentences."

By Maryna Dmytriv and Myroslav Liskovych

Photo: Ruslan Kaniuka

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