Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Stanford students, offers condolences after Texas mass shooting
STANFORD — In a live-streamed video address to Stanford students on Friday, embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his condolences to Americans following the deadly Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting that left 19 students and two adults dead.
“This is impossible to understand at home,” Zelensky told the hundreds of Stanford students — including a handful of Ukrainian students — who filled a university auditorium to hear him speak. “This is a tragedy, and we are living in these terrible times when American people are expressing their condolences because of the death of the Ukrainians at war and we are expressing our condolences because of deaths in peace.”
Michael McFaul, Director of the Institute for International Studies at Stanford and former US Ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said the university has deep ties to Ukraine having had 225 Ukrainian students throughout its history, and thanked him personally for addressing students calling him “a hero not just for Ukraine and Europe, but the entire world.”
Since February 24 when Russian soldiers poured over the Ukrainian border to go to war with their neighbors, at least 46,000 people have died, approximately 13,000 have been injured and nearly 7 million people have fled the country in what is Europe’s most intense conflict and refugee crisis since World War II.
Since his last visit to California in September 2020, Zelensky said in the address that “our society has undergone so many challenges that I wouldn’t wish on any other nation.”
“There are no wounded among you and I’m happy because of that,” Zelensky told Stanford students. “I’m happy for you that you are not wearing bulletproof vests or helmets and you are not in shelter. I’m happy that you are safe. I’m happy that this meeting won’t be interrupted by air raid sirens. But, unfortunately, this is not the case in Ukraine.”
Tensions have been high in Ukraine for more than a decade now. At the start of the war in 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and backed Russian separatists in the eastern region of the country. Fear increased after the Russian military began a large build-up of troops along its border with Ukraine, amassing some 190,000 troops and equipment. When the invasion occurred, many believes Russia would sweep through Ukraine and take the country over.
But Zelensky told Stanford students that Ukraine is “the land where everything is possible,” and though the world had shrugged them off, “Ukraine is the country that destroyed the myth about the enormous capabilities of Russian forces.”
“Ukraine as well as the Ukrainian army will continue to wage war, which Russia is unwilling to stop,” Zelensky said. “We are on a difficult and painful path. During that period, our young people will not be looking at professors or colleagues, they’ll be looking at their comrades in the trenches and at the enemy through the sights of their rifles. In this path for Ukraine, there will be a stage after which peace will come.”
Zelensky’s Stanford address comes as Russian forces slowly gained ground in eastern Ukraine, taking over the city of Lyman and coming closer to surrounding the much larger city of Sievierodonetsk, according to the New York Times. Zelensky spoke of a family killed during the conflict this week, noting that the Russian military has been consistently shelling residential buildings at the cost of civilian lives.
Connecting the ongoing conflict with the Texas shooting, Zelensky urged Stanford students to take care of themselves, their relatives but also the world, and to always try to find an answer to the question of whose lives matter more.
“Every day we have to not just put a question to ourselves, but find the answer to it: who matters most? and why?” Zelensky said. “This is the most important question to me.”
Following his speech, dozens of students lined up to ask Zelensky questions, which he gave thoughtful and sometimes impassioned answers to. The large lecture hall burst with energy after Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies masters student Christina Hill asked how Zelensky feels “going from being an actor to now managing a war against one of the biggest militaries in the world?”
Zelensky said “it’s much better than being a KGB agent and then becoming president.”
“But in any case, it’s about the greatest responsibility, that’s what I felt, that’s what I’ve been feeling whatever it is I’ve done in life,” Zelensky said. “I have a position with a lot of responsibility. I will try to be the best among other presidents, Ukraine has given me the chance to do so.”
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