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Ukrainian President Zelenskyy answers Canadian students’ questions

Written by Javed Iqbal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke virtually to a personal audience at the University of Toronto on Wednesday, explaining Ukraine’s need for financial support, humanitarian aid and sanctions against Russia, with students from several Canadian universities virtually present.

Questions from Canadian students covered topics as far-reaching as Zelensky’s cultural role models, how the Internet shapes the public’s perception of war, and what he believes the future brings for Ukraine.

Nearly four months after Russia’s invasion of its country began, Zelensky’s lecture, hosted by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, gave his perspective on democratic freedoms, civilian security during warfare, and whether NATO could be reformed to prevent future international crises. .

Here are some highlights from Zelenskyy’s Q&A, with questions from students enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Calgary, and the University of Toronto:


Quotes for grammar and formatting have been corrected


Over the past four months, you’ve been compared to so many cultural icons, from Winston Churchill to Harry Potter. Who are your historical or literary role models that you look up to for strength and inspiration?

Zelenskyy: First of all, thank you for that kind of comparison. Harry Potter is better than Voldemort. We know who Voldemort is in this war, and we know who Harry Potter is, so we know how the war will end.

To be honest, I will be very trivial in my answer … I think such role models are the people of Ukraine and there are very many of them … An ordinary Ukrainian farmer who wants to take his tractor and close the road to Russian tanks during invasion. An ordinary woman in our village who went out and stopped the armored vehicles with her hands. Our beautiful children who were sitting in their apartments when the enemy missiles hit their house and they are unfortunately resting in peace.

It is Ukrainians who have stayed in Ukraine and who have not given away our freedom.


Right now, many Ukrainian students have left the country to study at foreign universities. How can the Ukrainian government ensure that the wisest of this generation can return to Ukraine and have a bright future?

Zelenskyy: There are several stages that we have to go through with the government and the people. We must ensure that our security aspects are protected. We must stand strong for our country, for our universities and cities and use the capacity of our country.

By standing up for our country, ensuring our strong security aspects, we are laying the foundation for the country that will be different out of full-fledged aggression. The security situation must be the best in the world. This is a task for the government, for law enforcement, for the army. And that’s what’s going to happen … We do not have time for bureaucratic obstacles because we are a country at war.


With the availability of social media, much of the war has been publicly available, unlike wars before. How do you think the Internet has shaped the way the world perceives the war in Ukraine?

Zelenskyy: Social media is a space that means opportunities. We can cut distances between our country and other countries. Between government and society. It provides an opportunity, by using this instrument, to share the truth.

In our case, it’s almost like a weapon showing the world what’s going on in Ukraine. It means freedom. It means freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of thought. Some believe that in Russia and other countries, where internet resources are blocked, where there is no opportunity to speak freely, this is the challenge of the dictatorship. Because people do not have the ability to analyze and decide what is the truth and the lie and do not have the means to compare facts and arguments.

For us, the internet is a kind of weapon. Using it, we can show what is going on in Ukraine.


As a young person, I am very concerned about self-centered nationalism and the failing commitment to promote democracy around the world that I see here in North America. How do we convince others that the ideal democracy is worth fighting for and sacrificing?

When we say that we are fighting for common values, it is absolutely right. The war has no distance. We fight for the same values ​​that every country wants to live by … It’s about the right to choose … We protect this.

As I said, in today’s world, war has no distance. If we allow it to happen here, it can happen anywhere … All countries should react to the aggressor as if this war was being waged in your own country.


Since the war began in February, martial law has been introduced in Ukraine, and we are curious about how you and the government have managed to balance democratic freedoms with and the security of Ukrainians and the nation’s security, and how the application for EU membership has affected the government’s decision in these actions?

Unfortunately, I must admit that we have not had a law of war before this. Never. Therefore, we had to react very quickly. Sometimes very stiff. Because when protecting democracy, there may not be a question of having only democratic means to do so.

Democracy allows the chosen dialect, but when the war is underway, there is no time for the dialect. There is no time because you do not count seconds or minutes, but human life. The number of survivors and the number of dead … I must say that in order to protect democracy, you have to move quickly and undemocratically.

But when this ends, when the war ends, I think it will bear good fruit. With regard to fair entry into the European Union and candidate status for our country, I believe that Ukraine will get candidate status for (EU). We have been moving towards this for many years. Some people on my team feel that this is going into the light of darkness. I believe that all 27 European countries will support our candidate status. In terms of our army and our society, this is a great motivator for unity and for the victory of the Ukrainian people.


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Javed Iqbal

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