Amid growing international concern, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on April 20 invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet him in his country’s war-torn eastern Donbass region for talks on ending the conflict there and easing tensions between the two states. In a televised video address, Zelenskiy began his speech by addressing his fellow citizens in the Ukrainian language with an explanation of the current crisis, reassuring them that while an escalation wasn’t inevitable and Kyiv wouldn’t strike first, they should not be afraid because the Ukraine of 2021 was prepared for war.
Zelenskiy also urged Kyiv’s Western backers to give “clear signals” that they were willing to support the country in its standoff with Russia. Then, 10 minutes into his speech, the Ukrainian leader switched to the Russian language and addressed Putin directly. He urged the Russian President to meet in Donbass and further added that Kyiv is not afraid” because they have “strong support” of international partners.
Zelenskiy said, “Once, the president of the Russian Federation said ‘if a fight is inevitable, you need to strike first.’ But in my opinion, today every leader must understand that a fight cannot be inevitable when we’re not talking about back alleys and hooligans, but a real war and millions of human lives. And unlike in a fight, in a war, all sides lose.”
“Mr Putin: I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbass, where there is a war," he added.
Zelenskiy’s message came after Kyiv accused Moscow of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders along with the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow back in 2014. The situation has even rattled Western allies, who fear that an invasion could be afoot. Amid rising tensions, Zelenskiy, however, said that he had spoken to the leaders of the US, France, Germany, UK and Turkey as well as the Council chief and the secretary-general of NATO and that they were all “on our side”.
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy said, “They perfectly see the real motives of Russia and are ready to support us financially. They are ready to impose increasingly severe sanctions and adopt tough resolutions”.
Meanwhile, since July 2020, an uneasy cease-fire has been in effect. While the longstanding conflict is still unresolved, the latest escalation was triggered after four Ukrainian soldiers died on March 26 and Kyiv blamed the incident on Moscow. However, Russia denied involvement and said the soldiers died after a landmine exploded as they were inspecting a minefield. Russia also warned against the provocations from the Ukrainian side, saying it could start a war. Later, reports emerged suggesting a massive Russian troops build-up along the Russia-Ukraine border.