UPDATED: What Ukraine's Zelenskyy Said During Record-Long Press Conference
10 October, 2019
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to journalists at Kyiv's central Food Market on October 10. PA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has answered questions from more than 300 journalists in his first big press conference since May inauguration.

At 10 hours (and going strong), it broke the world record for the longest press conference given by a country leader. Hromadske takes a look at some key points made by the president

On Interference in the U.S. Elections

Ukraine should investigate alleged interference in the 2016 U.S elections. Zelenskyy could not answer a simple “yes” or “no” to the BBC question about whether he knew if Ukrainians interfered in the elections. He said he needs evidence of Ukraine's intervention.

As for the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, Zelenskyy said that he does not want to interfere in any way in elections of an independent country. Americans should elect their president themselves and, conversely, the U.S. should not influence the elections in independent Ukraine.

On Appointment of an Ambassador to the United States

"The person has been chosen. It's a person with experience who knows the United States very well. I think the appointment will happen in the near future." However, the president refused to name the future ambassador.

On Prisoner Exchange

Answering the question about the extradition of the MH17 suspect Volodymyr Tsemakh to Russia, Zelenskyy said the Netherlands understand the reason behind this decision. He warned them and gave them all the opportunities that Ukrainian authorities could give for the investigations before Tsemakh’s release.

READ MORE: Is This MH17 Suspect the Reason Ukraine-Russia Prisoner Swap Stalled?

On What He Would Say to Donbas Residents Fearing Ukraine’s Return 

In response to journalist Oleksiy Matsuka’s question about what president would say to the people of Donbas who are afraid of Ukraine’s return, Zelenskyy said:

"Every time I address Ukrainians, I address all of our citizens, including the civilians of the occupied Donbas. All people who live there and feel Ukrainian – they need to know that we will bring them back together with the territories. This is our plan A. Plan B is an option when the return of territories would be delayed, but people would still be the priority." 

READ MORE: Donbas Expert on "Steinmeier Formula," "Red Lines," "Capitulation," and "Junta"

On Relations with Russia

Ukraine will never surrender its territory and its independence. If, at first, someone had such thoughts, now everyone understands it, including Russians and militants.

Zelenskyy said he is ready for direct negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the return of people if the Normandy format is delayed. He doesn’t want the war with Russia to become a frozen conflict, but cannot guarantee it won’t.

On the Return of Crimea

“For me, the Normandy format is an opportunity to return to the issue of Crimea. There is currently no track to discuss this issue, apart from our Western partners, to whom we are very grateful that the Crimean issue is noted in sanctions,” said Ukrainian President.

On Minsk Agreements

Zelenskyy is not happy with the Minsk Agreements. Ukraine should pass a law on a special status for Donbas if it wants peace there. If Ukraine leaves the Minsk process, it will have to face Russia alone, Zelenskyy said.

On the Steinmeier Formula and the Anti-Capitulation Campaign

Zelenskyy is of the opinion that the Steinmeier formula must be implemented into the law on special status. That is, the formula should come into force exactly when the special status law comes into force. Therefore, to say that the Steinmeier formula has been implemented is incorrect, the head of state clarifies.

On Sheremet’s Murder

Answering Hromadske’s question on when to expect substantial results in resolving the 2016 murder of Ukrainian-Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet, Zelenskyy said that there is an ongoing investigation but could not promise a date by which it will be complete.

“Yes, I know a little bit more [about the investigation], but not as much as you think… I know that we need to wait a little bit more,” he said, adding that if no result is to follow, the leadership of the interior ministry will be replaced.

READ MORE: ‘Who Killed Pavel Sheremet’: Hromadske Investigation

On PrivatBank

The issue of PrivatBank has to be resolved by the independent international experts. The negotiations with an oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky are needed so the state would not bear any losses. It is necessary to sit down with him and say: “Look, there is no money [there], let’s settle it.” The oligarchs would agree to compromise because of the war. In the matter of PrivatBank, Zelenskyy said he would defend the interests of Ukraine. 

READ MORE: "International Experts Should Decide on PrivatBank" – Ukraine’s Zelenskyy

On Corruption

The head of state's response to lack of anti-corruption initiatives was as follows:“When I came, I thought we would lock all the corrupt people away. At the same time, when the first handcuffs were put on, everyone said 'tut-tut', the president has no right to influence law enforcement agencies. I said: 'Ok, but I can gather meetings and talk to law enforcement, about their actions?' - 'Yes, you can.' - 'And if a criminal walks down the street, everyone calls me and they say that this man is a murderer, he is lying, he was an MP, may I ask 'why hasn't he been put in jail?' - 'Well, you may, but you have to tread lightly.' So I have to pick the right words. God forbid there's any influence!" 

On Language and Ideology

Zelenskyy’s ideology is “to end the war, lift the economy and bring people back here”. He admits not even thinking about the National Memory Institute and argues that the Donbas war started because of the language issue. He went on to stress the need to “react to whatever splits society.”

On the Legalization of Weapons

President Zelenskyy believes that in a country where there are so many unregistered weapons we cannot give people the opportunity to carry weapons. He thinks someday Ukraine can discuss it in some format, but not right now, because that would lead to chaos. 

On His Press Secretary Iuliia Mendel Accused of Assault

Zelenskyy said that while Mendel “did not have to react in such a way,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty journalist Serhiy Andrushko did not behave correctly as well. 

“A man should not act like this in relation to a woman or a girl. I [previously] forgave his behavior toward me. Were I not a president, I would have responded in a different way,” Zelenskyy said. “I will protect the girl (Mendel -ed.) in this situation.”

On September 5, Mendel appeared to use force to stop journalist Andrushko from getting close to Zelenskyy and his head of staff Andriy Bohdan in order to ask questions. A full video of the incident was published by RFE/RL on September 27.

/Compiled by Natalia Smolentceva