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Exclusive: Zelensky says Ukraine will not give up territory in the east to end the war with Russia

Zelensky said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday from the president’s office in Kyiv that his country has no guarantee that Russia will not try to retake Kyiv if it manages to take over Donbass.

“That is why it is very important for us not to allow them to defend their positions, because this battle … it can affect the course of the whole war,” Zelenski said.

“Because I do not trust the Russian military and the Russian leadership,” he continued. “Therefore, we understand that the fact that we fought them and they left, and they were fleeing from Kyiv – from the north, from Chernigov and from this direction – does not mean that they are able to capture. Donbass, they will not get further to Kyiv.

Zelensky’s interview with CNN on Friday, more than seven weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, comes as the Ukrainian military succeeds in countering the Russian offensive, which came as a surprise to US intelligence – and the Kremlin, which planned quickly and decisively. victory.

At the same time, Ukraine has suffered horrific civilian casualties across the country amid fighting. Zelensky told CNN that the world must be prepared for the possibility of Putin using tactical nuclear weapons because he does not value Ukrainian lives. Zelensky speaks in Ukrainian and English about the horrors his country is witnessing and the emergency aid his army still needs to equip to repel the upcoming Russian offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine. US President Joe Biden said last week that killing civilians by Russian forces seemed genocide.

“I have the same opinion as President Biden,” Zelenski said. “Look what happened in Bucha. It is clear that this is not even a war, this is genocide. They were just killing people. Not soldiers, people. They were just shooting people in the streets. People rode bicycles, took the bus or just walked down. the street. There were corpses in the streets. “

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is diplomatically committed to Putin, said in response to Biden’s comments about the genocide that he did not think it was constructive to raise rhetoric. Zelensky said he spoke with Macron last week and wanted him to visit Ukraine to see the atrocities first hand.

“I think he wants to take some steps to ensure that Russia engages in dialogue. I just told him that I want him to understand that this is not a war, but nothing but genocide, “Zelenski said. “I invited him to come when he had the opportunity. He will come and see and I’m sure he will understand.”

Zelensky said he also wants Biden to come to Ukraine. Last week, the US president offered to leave, although he said US officials were still “discussing” whether a senior US official would visit Ukraine.

“I think he will,” Zelensky told Biden when asked if he had any plans to visit the president. “I mean his decision, of course. Besides, the security situation depends – I mean – but I think he’s the leader of the United States, so he has to come here to see. “

Zelensky spoke emotionally about the deaths caused by the war in Ukraine, saying it was “a great pain for me” to see the lives lost. Zelensky, who lost his family in the Holocaust, was asked what he thought about politicians around the world saying “never again” on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, given what is happening in his country.

“I don’t believe in the world,” he said, speaking in English. “We do not believe in words. After the escalation of Russia, we do not believe in our neighbors. We do not believe in all this.”

“The only faith is faith in ourselves, in our people, faith in our armed forces and faith that the countries will support us not only with their words but also with their actions,” Zelensky continued in Ukrainian. “And that’s all. Never again. Indeed, everyone is talking about it, and yet, as you can see, not everyone has the courage.”

More help is needed

Zelensky said the additional $ 800 million in funding approved by Biden last week to go to Ukraine for new and more modern weapons was useful – but more is still needed.

“Of course we need more. But I am happy that he is helping us now, “Zelenski said. “I feel we are having a cleaner dialogue right now. It was a dialogue that had some twists and turns. And not just conversations. It was very, very difficult because there are not many countries that have really helped us. ”

Zelensky said the most important factor is the speed of obtaining the necessary weapons in the hands of Ukrainian forces. He dismissed some concerns that the United States and other countries have expressed that Ukrainian troops are not trained to use some of the weapons the country wants.

“There are people who offer solutions, but they seem to be self-serving. So it’s not up to us, “Zelenski said. “We are ready to use all kinds of equipment, but it must be delivered very quickly. And we have the ability to learn how to use new equipment. But it must come quickly.

Zelensky said he was ready to engage diplomatically with Russia to try to end the war, but that Russia’s attacks on Ukrainians made it harder.

“As I said before, what is the price of all this? These are people. Many people who were killed. And who ultimately pays for all this? This is Ukraine. Only us, “Zelenski said. “So for us, it’s a really big price. If there is an opportunity to talk, we will talk. But to speak only under a Russian ultimatum? Then the question is about the attitude towards us, not about whether the dialogue is ‘good or bad.’ It is impossible.”

Admitting that he still had a target on his back from the Kremlin as the war raged, Zelensky was asked how he would like to be remembered.

“A human being who loved life to the end,” he replied. “And he loved his family and he loved his country. He’s definitely not a hero. I want people to accept me for who I am. An ordinary person.”

This story has been updated with additional details.