Two Years of Zelenskyy. What Ukraine President Said at Annual Press Conference
20 May, 2021
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference on May 20, 2021 Max Levin / hromadske
Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a press conference on the results of two years of his presidency. The event takes place on the territory of the Antonov aircraft construction bureau. hromadske conducted video and text broadcasts of the event.

On the venue chosen for the press conference

We are now at the legendary Antonov plant. Behind me is our Ukrainian AN-124 Ruslan aircraft. The last time we finished building such an aircraft was in 1994. To our right is the unfinished “Dream of Ukraine”, and to our left is the new AN-178 fuselage, which we started building five months ago.

This is one of three planes that the state ordered for the first time in 30 years of Independence at the Antonov plant for the Ukrainian army. And this is the whole point: we must remember the past, understand where and in what state we are now and where we will be next. I want to build a dream country and lift it up, as rises Antonov. We are building a country without war, it is a thorny path.

Символ 30-річчя Незалежності України

Symbol of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's Independence

On dismissal of health minister

I have long been against interference in the Ministry of Health. The Minister himself is responsible for vaccination. I know the details of the complexity of this process. And in this situation, I was completely on the side of the Prime Minister. Why now? Because it was impossible to work [like that] anymore. This completely destabilized the atmosphere. There was [a dispute] between the departments, the minister and the chief sanitary doctor (now minister Viktor Lyashko -ed.). We could not let [this situation escalate].

On vaccination in Ukraine

We now have 45-47 million hryvnias' worth of contracts for the supply of free vaccines. This is the maximum number that could be found under programs, COVAX, direct contracts. Is Ukraine an outsider in vaccination? We did a million vaccinations. We are not an EU country, not in NATO - we are not a priority for the supply of vaccines.

We were outside the European programs at the level of complex agreements between the leadership of Ukraine, the Prime Minister or the Minister of Health. We persisted when we realized that there may simply be no vaccines in Ukraine.

The situation in the world right now is very unfair. We do not have a loud voice among the EU countries. If you compare the percentage of vaccinated - despite the fact that we are not a priority (if you compare the EU and NATO countries) - we have done more vaccines than some countries. I personally met with the owner of the Serum Institute. I was talking about 500,000 doses of the vaccine, and now you see what's happening in India. Export of the drug is still prohibited. You can't mention 40 million Ukrainians. That is, no one plays the population card when there are no vaccines on the market.

By the way, Viktor Medvedchuk's channels talked about Sputnik V and slandered AstraZeneca, India stopped exporting the vaccine. I want India to see that we have not defamed their vaccines.

On dismissal of economy minister

Ihor Petrashko will remain in one or another position in the team, but will be responsible for a very important reform in Ukraine. Today, he will remain in the President's Office, coordinate land reform and help Roman Leshchenko launch it.

The person who showed the best result will be the Minister of Economy and the First Deputy Prime Minister - this is the wish of the Prime Minister and myself. He is an economist, a professional. This is an experienced person.

On dismissal of infrastructure minister

Regarding the situation with the Minister of Infrastructure. Vladyslav Kryklii remains in our team, there isn't much against him. We need to build Ukraine very quickly. These are not only roads, but also catastrophes in Ukrzaliznytsia, seaports, public-private air carriers. Many of these things never materialized. I think this is a really difficult issue - not only for the minister, but also for his team. I believe that they could not, did not do it in time. I don't have time.

The most powerful person who really showed the result is Oleksandr Kubrakov. Therefore, he became a minister. We had a meeting with Krykliy, you will soon see him in a new position.

On the Independence Day celebration

The 30th anniversary will be celebrated over three days. On the Day of the National Flag, August 23, large flags will be raised in all regions of Ukraine. A concert will take place at the Kyiv Opera House on the same day. Also on August 23, the first summit of the Crimean Platform will take place, and representatives from about 30 countries have been invited.

On August 24, there will be a big military parade, both on land (on the Maidan in Kyiv) and on the water (on the Dnipro and in Odessa), in the evening - a big concert of Ukrainian stars at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv.

 On August 22, we will celebrate the great Ukrainians with the "National Legend" award. It will be about people who glorify Ukraine.

On participation in the "Crimean platform"

There is a risk of complicating relations with Russia. It reacts very badly to the Crimean platform. It is important for us that after seven years of annexation we have at least something. I am glad that this is at least something - a serious platform for Crimea. This is not just a platform where we will sign something. This will be a place for decision-making. We will finally open an Office to address issues: providing humanitarian aid, promoting de-occupation, helping citizens there.

I have also initiated several laws that I want to have time to sign at the Crimean Platform - in particular on indigenous peoples, the Crimean Tatars. As for the representatives of the countries that will be present, I want all the days of Independence celebrations to be presented in detail, all countries and the level of representation will be represented there.

On the war in Donbas

Resolving the issue of war, de-occupation of our territories is our highest priority. COVID-19 made it difficult for leaders to meet in the Normandy format. Therefore, there is no progress. We met yesterday and finally agreed on the opening of the checkpoints.

We have taken a serious step - we have agreed to a ceasefire. For around 6-7 straight months, there was a more or less stable situation. We have 10 times fewer shellings, injuries and, most importantly, fatalities, compared to other periods.

We will proceed in several directions, in particular, in the Normandy format. I had a meeting with the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel. I think they should support us more. I think they have been weakening their position on Russia a bit lately. This is due, on the one hand, to the economic situation, to the pressure of business within their countries on sanctions. It is a difficult choice, but at this point, I know that they support Ukraine.

About "Plan B" concerning Donbas

We have not yet ruled out "Plan A". COVID-19 stopped the meetings in the "Norman format". I am in favor of a direct conversation with Vladimir Putin. I think that stopped some things. As for the number of people and the probability of escalation - it is always present.

Now the situation is difficult. 35,000 in the Crimea, about 35,000 in the Donbas, including a third of Russian contingent. There are 47,000-80,000 at the border, this number varies. We see a very slow decline in Russia's military. I think that such tension may remain until the end of the exercises, at least until September.

Since July 27, the death toll has decreased over the eight months of the ceasefire. I think we should not lose this dialogue. Our Western partners support Normandy and see no alternative. I think there will be a direct conversation with Putin. And I still see the involvement of the United States in the discussion. Although I'm not sure in what format.

Президент Володимир Зеленький під час пресконференції 20 травня 2021 року

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference on May 20, 2021. Photo credit: Max Levin / hromadske

On "freezing" the conflict in eastern Ukraine

We have a chess game in which you - although you are white - start with half the pieces. The freezing of the conflict is 99% dependent on Russia and 1% on Ukraine. I don't know if they are proud of this or not, but those are the facts.

I am moving forward, Andriy Yermak is doing a lot next to me, completely putting his reputation on the line. I don't want to say why, or because of whom - as this is a big information war. We cling to this percentage so as not to freeze the conflict. It is easier to freeze - there will be no betrayal, it will be perceived normal politically, many countries live like this.

On Vladimir Putin after the meeting in Paris

I don't have time to think about the president of Russia. I think only of a meeting in one format or another that can bring us closer to the end of the war. I am very careful about Putin's characteristics. If we simply increase the escalation with words and appeals that do not lead to anything, I will not forgive myself. My priority is to end the war. And only then we will talk about what I think about others.

We don't have another chance. We must end the war while Putin is president of Russia. I really want that. I believe in that.

About elections to the State Duma in the occupied Donbas

They used to do it - they took people to Russia to vote. Now they have decided not to even drive, but to show that there are Russian citizens there. I am not interested in whether they will go to the State Duma or government bodies. Because pro-Ukrainian people will not go there.

As for the "passportization" - I'm raising this issue, the leaders are discussing this issue, and I'm sure NATO will discuss it on June 14. And they are discussing with Russia. We can only influence through diplomatic talks. Although, as you know, I don't consider them the only weapon.

On the National Security and Defense Council and shift towards authoritarianism

I am fulfilling my constitutional duties. And not merely with a bunch of people. The National Security and Defense Council includes all institutions: law enforcement, the government, the prime minister, the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, and the institutions of the President's Office. This is not a dictatorship or a monarchy, everyone is represented there, and some of them do not vote for sanctions against Viktor Medvedchuk. I believe that this is their opinion and their decision. But this is a shared responsibility.

On the first referendum

Amendments to the Constitution can also be initiated by the President. I would be very, very careful about referendums.

The second part is local referendums. Because people on the ground know their problems much better. The law on local referendums will be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada.

As for state referendums, this should be the most important issue we have today. I believe that this is the situation in Donbas. And I'm sure that after a while - we have several plans to end the war and return the territories and people - we will present one of these plans to the public.

On tax hike

Tax increases are not for Ukrainians or society. The new powerful law includes an increase in the iron ore tax. You know what I'm talking about. Am I not afraid that companies will conceal income? This is not fair, because according to the Constitution, the subsoil belongs to the Ukrainian people.

We know how to make sure that no one gets hurt or closes the business. But when we have a war and have nothing to pay pensions with, we will not allow someone to make 200-300% from the state subsoil. We will not allow this.

On the law on oligarchs

There is no law yet, because we approach each norm in detail. It is almost 100% ready, I think it will appear next week.

The main idea and philosophy are that we definitely do not want to kill big business, but we are definitely killing the concept, content and influence of the oligarchic system in our country.

There will be no influence on the media, as well as no influence on politics, on officials. But if there is - these people will receive an "oligarch" label. They will be in a special register and may lose their assets abroad.

Nobody is killing anyone. Everyone wants big business to stay, be a big taxpayer and stay. This is my philosophy and tough stance. They have a choice: either to stay and do the right thing, or to be on the register and fall under sanctions.

By law, the oligarchs will be given time to get rid of all this influence. We will even show them how to do it. There will be no deadlock.

Президент Володимир Зеленький під час пресконференції 20 травня 2021 року

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference on May 20, 2021. Photo credit: Max Levin / hromadske

On the situation around Naftogaz

This company has a leader - the Government of Ukraine. NJSC Naftogaz must fill the budget, according to their promises and work plans.

Naftogaz showed losses of 11 billion (-$400,000,000) this year. The government, as the main shareholder, has decided to change leadership.

And today the task is set that there are no losses of 11 billion. And I'm sure we'll live to see this. Offices funded for lobbying Naftogaz will be closed, and the media and their representatives lobbying abroad will be closed.

On the central bank

I support the independence of the National Bank, you can ask the former head of Yakiv Smoliy about it, I have nothing against him. I fought for the interest rates on loans to be reduced. This is very difficult for our population. I guaranteed it - and got it. Instead of 20-25%, which we had under the previous head of the NBU, now the program "5-7-9%" has appeared.

I did not know the new head of the National Bank, Kirill Shevchenko. I invited all commercial and state banks of Ukraine and international partners to a meeting. They elected three candidates, one of three was elected by the state.

On the Security Service

We have many issues with the SBU. I am sure that there are still people from those times. But such serious blows inflicted by the SBU in defending Ukraine's security that they are now doing in the fight against terrorism, both externally and internally. And the fact that they often prepare material for the National Security and Defense Council meetings on sanctions means that the head of the Security Service of Ukraine has the will [to change].

On whether he knows the killers of journalist Pavel Sheremet

I don't know who the killer is. If I knew, I would do anything. Even outside the law to send them to prison.

I'm sorry I wasn't president [at the time of Sheremet's murder]. I can't speak, I can't promise, but I know that now - I'm sorry it sounds like that - I don't want it to change, but no journalist has died like that under me.

On Sheremet case suspect Andriy Antonenko

I do not interfere in the activities of law enforcement agencies and the court. But I know in detail what is happening. If they were convicted illegally, I don't care. There is no absolute proof that they are not guilty.

Can Interior Minister Arsen Avakov remain in this situation if they were convicted illegally? No. This is a difficult question. And he knows it, and we understand the complexity of the process.

On the meeting between Putin and Biden

I think this meeting is necessary. Joe Biden knows my position, we discussed with Antony Blinken whether there are risks that they will violate something despite our agreements. There are such risks. For example, that Russia can put pressure on the United States and lift sanctions on Nord Stream-2.

I think it will be a US loss - Biden's personal loss. I say this openly. This will be a serious geopolitical victory for Russia and a new redistribution of power and influence. I know that our partners have different views on this, and even opinions in the Senate and Congress are divided.

Президент Володимир Зеленький під час пресконференції 20 травня 2021 року

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference on May 20, 2021. Photo credit: Max Levin / hromadske

On the people on his team

For some steps taken by some people who are (or were) nearby, I do feel really ashamed. I believe that if these are small mistakes, we must forgive and they must be corrected. Because we need to give people a second chance. I always gave people a second chance, sometimes even a third, which I then regret - it's true. And what they are is my responsibility. But I didn't notice anything [untoward] when they first came. This does not apply to Tymofiy Milovanov, he is a cool specialist. Sometimes reflective, sometimes unrestrained, but very helpful.

As for Mykola Tyshchenko, I am really ashamed of some of his steps, he was wrong and I think he should understand that. He is an adult and must be responsible. The party considered the issue at a meeting, and gave Mykola a chance. Because I know that he is multifaceted, he cares a lot, I think.

This, by the way, affects me and my personality. And popularity if we speak pragmatically. This is life. Life is a challenge. But still people need to be given a chance. But if they take bribes or something, you can't give them a second chance. That is why sometimes you see serious steps towards deputies fired from the Servant of the People.

On Vitaliy Klychko and the Kyiv City State Administration

The only thing that connects me with Vitaliy Klychko is that the head of the Kyiv City State Administration is the president’s structure. I do not want to say anything bad, I have great respect for all his victories before he became mayor. As for the [recent] searches of Klychko's entourage - Palatnyi's last name was there - they shouldn’t have stolen money. Didn't we dream of justice? I don't think Mr. Klychko’s behavior is ideal. He constantly writes to me, calls me, comes to the President’s Office [to see me].

He was elected by the people of Kyiv, I respect that. There is a manager in the capital, he asked me not to fire him. There were people around me who wanted to dismiss him. He turned to me, I said: "No problem, show some results." But there are people and evidence from law enforcement, probably - these times are over, do not steal.

As for changes in his environment - I have not seen it, but we do have a choice. He has full power in Kyiv, his secretary is his guy. I will speak frankly: the mayor came to me after elections and asked that the secretary wasn't from another party. I said, "I won't interfere."

No one has decided yet whether to go for a second term. Secondly, Klychko was elected by the Kyivans. Third, there are polls about popularity. Fourth, my head of the Office does not take bribes, so we are not rivals.

Президент Володимир Зеленький під час пресконференції 20 травня 2021 року

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference on May 20, 2021. Photo credit: Max Levin / hromadske

On Petro Poroshenko

I have no sentiments or conversations with him. Although, let me remind you, he really wanted to. Like Klychko, who still comes. This man no longer pays me visits, thank God. It is easier for me to live and work. They all want to negotiate with me. I am a person incapable of this by nature. I have already become his "verdict". He just doesn't want to realize what happened.

He did a lot of very serious, very bad things. All this will catch up with him. In addition to law enforcement, this is karma. We see only the surface: what was done, for whom. I just understand that it happened every day. It's terrible. I do not want to talk about these steps, operations, business, blockades to make money.

I think the worst thing is that he himself does not understand that for him a human is nothing. And this can never be fixed. Neither through experience nor education. Therefore, I became a real verdict for him when I took over the presidency.

On Ukrainians wishing to emigrate

I understand the high percentage of people, especially young people in the east. They want to live in a stable situation, to find themselves. And for this, we must end the war. But there are examples, such as Mariupol, where a lot has been done. It's a really modern city with a fairly high average salary. There aren't many such cities yet. 

What we are doing now? A large number of infrastructure projects have been built in Transcarpathia and specifically in eastern Ukraine: in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Why we started from the east? Because most people aren't there - they left eastern Ukraine. Many of them cannot find themselves. They do not really believe in returning to Donbas.

Therefore, our goal is to end the war, to build infrastructure, to attract investors - although they are reluctant to come because of the war. Why did we hold an economic forum in Donbas? So that investors can see that it is safe there. Why do I go to Donbas and take ambassadors? Because they are ambassadors of their country. I show them the situation, I tell them to invest money.