Full Text of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's First Speech as President of Ukraine
20 May, 2019
Hromadske publishes unadulterated speech of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy given after the inauguration in the parliament in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 20.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds a bulava  a wooden mace that's regarded as one of the symbols of being a president of Ukraine. Photo credit: Mykhailo Markiv / POOL

Dear Ukrainians! After [my] election win, my 6-year-old son said: "Dad, I saw on TV that Zelenskyy is now the president! Does that mean I'm the president too?" Back then, it sounded like a childish joke. But then, I came to realize that it was actually the truth. Because each and every one of us is the president. Not just the 73% who voted for me, but the entire 100% of Ukrainians. This is not my victory, it's our shared victory. And it's our shared chance that we all bear responsibility for. And just now, it wasn't just me who took the oath. Each one of us placed their hands on top of the Constitution, each one of us took the oath to be loyal to Ukraine. Imagine screaming headlines like: "The President does not pay his taxes," "The President drove on the red light after drinking," "The President steals money in secret – because that's what everybody does." You agree that that would be a shame. And that's what I mean by saying that "each one of us is President." 

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From today onward, each one of us has responsibility for the Ukraine that we leave behind for our children. Each one of us – being in their jobs – can do everything in their power for the development of Ukraine. A European country starts with each of us. Yes, we chose a path to Europe. But Europe is not somewhere over there. Europe is right here (points at his head, -ed.). And when Europe is right here, it will be here, too (points at his surrounding, -ed.). It will be in Ukraine. That's our shared dream. But we also have a shared pain. Each one of us has died in the Donbas. And each day, we're losing each one of us. Every one of us is an internally displaced person. All those who lost their homes and all those who opened up their homes to share the pain. And every one of us is a worker abroad. Yes, those who did not find themselves in their home country and went to work abroad. Those who, while fighting poverty, are forced to lose their dignity. 

But we will overcome all of this. Because each one of us is a Ukrainian. We're all Ukrainians. There are no bigger or smaller [Ukrainians], proper or wrong [Ukrainians], we're all Ukrainians. From Uzhhorod to Luhansk. From Chernihiv to Simferopol. In Lviv, Kharkiv, and Donetsk. In Dnipro and Odesa. We're all Ukrainians. And we need to stay united because that's the only way to stay strong. 

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Today, I address all the Ukrainians in the world. There's 65 million of us. Don't be so surprised – yes, there are 65 million of us. All those who were brought to life by the Ukrainian land. The Ukrainians in Europe and Asia, in North and South America, in Australia and Africa. I address all the Ukrainians on this planet: we really need you. All those who are prepared to build a new, strong and successful Ukraine – I will happily provide you with a Ukrainian citizenship. You shouldn't be coming "to visit" Ukraine, you should be coming home. We're waiting for you. Don't bring souvenirs from abroad, please bring your knowledge, experience, and mental values [instead.] All of this will help us start a new epoch. The skeptics will say that it's a fantasy and it's impossible. But maybe that is our national idea: to do the impossible by uniting together. In spite of everything. 

Think about the Icelandic national team during the European football championship. When a dentist, a film director, a pilot, a student, and a cleaner fought together and defended their country's dignity. And they managed to do it successfully despite nobody believing in them.

That is our path. We need to become the Icelandic in football, the Israelis in defending their rightful land, the Japanese in terms of technology, the Swiss in terms of knowing how to co-exist happily with each other despite any differences. Our first task is to end fire in the Donbas (the whole audience in the parliament stands up and applauds after these words, -ed.).

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I've often been asked what I'm prepared to do in order to stop fire. It's a strange question. What are you, the Ukrainians, prepared to lose for the lives of the people close to you, what? I can assure that in order for our heroes to stop dying I am ready to do everything. And I am definitely not afraid to make difficult decisions, not afraid to lose my own popularity, my ratings. And if there's a need I'm prepared to give up my own position – as long as peace arrives. But without giving up our territories – ever (people stand up and applaud again, -ed.). 

History is not fair, that's true. It wasn't us who started this war, it wasn't us. But it's our job to end it. And we're ready for a dialogue. But (switches to Russian at this point, probably for the Russians to understand, -ed.) I'm confident that the first step for this dialogue to take place would be the return of all Ukrainian prisoners of war. 

(Switches back to Ukrainian, -ed.:) Our next challenge is to return the lost territories. But, to be honest, I don't think such wording is correct since it's impossible to lose something that rightfully belongs to us. Both Crimea and Donbas are Ukrainian lands. We didn't just lose the territories, we lost the most important thing: the people. (Switches to Russian again, -ed.:) Today, we just must – I'm sure they're listening to us – get their conscience back. We lost this conscience. All these years, the government has not done anything to make them feel Ukrainian. 

(Switches back to Ukrainian, -ed.:) They're not foreign, they're our people, they're Ukrainians. Excuse me? (Zelenskyy addresses MP Oleh Lyashko in the parliament who shouted that the people in the Donbas and Crimea can understand Ukrainian, -ed.) They understand Ukrainian? Really? Thank you very much. Thanks for carrying on dividing the nation, Mr. Lyashko. Because a Ukrainian... I want to say: yes, we're all Ukrainians. Regardless of where we live because Ukrainian is not what's written in your passport. Ukrainian is what's right here (points at his heart, -ed.). And that's it. 

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I know this for sure. I know this from the soldiers who defend Ukraine, from our heroes. Both the Ukrainian- and the Russian-speaking ones. There's no such thing as a strong army – I want to address them – there's no such thing as a strong army in places where a government  does not respect the people who give up their lives for their own country every day. 

I will do everything so that you feel this respect. That means a worthy and, most importantly, stable financial support. It's your living conditions. It's your legal vacations after carrying out military tasks. Vacations for you and your families. We need not to talk about the NATO standards, but to create them – to create these standards. 

Of course, apart from the war, there are many other problems here that make Ukrainians unhappy. I'm talking about the shocking tariffs, humiliating salaries and pensions, painful prices, the absence of job opportunities. It's the healthcare the improvement of which is only talked about by those who never had to stay in a regular hospital with a child. It's the infamous Ukrainian roads that are only being repaired inside someone's imagination. 

Please let me quote one American actor who turned into a great American president. The government is not here to solve all our problems, the government is our problem. It's just a quote. 

And to be honest, I don't understand our government when all it does is shrugs and says "there's nothing we can do." That's not true, you can. You can take a piece of paper and a pen and free your seats in favor of all those who will think about the next generations and not about the next elections. I think that the people will appreciate [this step.] Somehow, only some of you are applauding, I'm speaking from the nation, please...

My election [as president] only proves that the citizens are tired of the experienced politicians who over the past 28 years created a country of opportunities – opportunities to steal, bribe and loot. Let's build a country of other opportunities. Where everybody is equal before the law and where the rules of the game are honest and transparent, that are the same for everyone. And for this to happen, people who want to serve the nation, need to take office. And please, I really don't want you to hang my portraits on your office walls. Because a president is not an icon and not an idol. A president is not a portrait. Hang pictures of your children. And before you make any decision, look into their eyes. 

You know, I could talk a lot more but I know that Ukrainians want actions, not words. Therefore, dear lawmakers... You yourselves have chosen Monday to be the inauguration day, a weekday. I see a pro in this. This means we won't party but we will work instead. So I'm asking you to please adopt the law on canceling the parliamentary immunity, the law on criminal responsibility for illegal enrichment, the much-anticipated electoral code. And please make the lists open to the public.

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And please, I'm asking you to dismiss the following people: the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. And that's far from all you can do. But that would be a good enough start. I give you two months to do that, you have two months for that. Please do that and then get yourselves medals. And this is a good chance to announce snap parliamentary elections. I'm dissolving the Ukrainian Parliament of the 8th convocation. 

Glory to Ukraine!

Thank you all! As far as I understand, you've all just consulted already. And the last thing, in short. Dear nation, throughout my life, I've been trying to do everything for Ukrainians to smile. I felt with my heart that it wasn't just my job, it was my mission. In the next five years, I will do everything so that you, Ukrainians, don't cry. Thank you.

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/Translated by Maria Romanenko