Stanford students asked Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy how they can help. Here’s what he told them

Stanford students asked Ukraine's President Zelenskyy how they can help.  Here's what he told them

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine addressed Stanford University students and faculty on Friday morning, imploring them to remember the realities of the ongoing war and urging them to keep spreading the truth about what his country faces.

Zelenskyy was greeted by a long round of applause from a packed Stanford auditorium following his introduction by Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia and director of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

In his introduction, McFaul called Zelenskyy a hero to “the entire free world.”

“In the fight between democracy and dictatorship, colonialism and independence, amid good and evil, no nation in the world is doing more, no nation in the world is sacrificing more than Ukrainians,” McFaul said.

Zelenskyy drew the distinction between those sitting in the auditorium and those of his own country — refusing to shy away from the realities of war.

“I can see people who are not wearing armored vests, who are not wearing helmets, who are not in the bomb shelters,” he said. “There’s no one dead among you or wounded as the result of enemy shellings… this meeting won’t be interrupted by the raid siren because California is not endangered by the Russian missiles. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Ukraine.”

I have noted that since he last visited Stanford last Septemberbefore the war, much has changed — but his hope remains.

“As I said at that time, Ukraine is the country where everything is possible. … Now the whole world knows that,” he said. “Ukraine is the country that destroyed the myth about the enormous capabilities of the Russian forces.”

He has repeated several times that while the road to victory will be long and painful, he believes his country will survive the Russian offensive.

Zelenskyy also spoke to the challenges Ukraine is facing right now, particularly in its eastern region, where Russian forces have made advances. Russians had the upper hand in Ukraine’s east on Friday, the Associated Press reported. The battles are focused on two key cities — Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk — the last two under Ukrainian control. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled some territory in the east for eight years.

He described how Russia was shelling residential buildings in areas, where he said there were no military facilities, recently killing at least nine civilians, including a newborn baby and its father, leaving the mother injured and alone. He noted that Ukrainian Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east believed they would be protected during the war, but that many of them have been killed in Russia’s recent attacks as well.

He then shifted his focus to a well-known Stanford application question: What matters to you and why?

His answer, he said, was a pragmatic one: the need for more tangible international support for Ukraine, including weapons, sanctions to stop the flow of money financing the Russian army, blocking and confiscating of all Russian assets in international jurisdictions and courts for Russian war criminals “who killed, raped, tortured and deported our citizens,” he said.

He also said he wants to see a new architecture of international security that would prevent a similar war from happening, as well as assistance with reconstruction after the war.

“I believe that Ukrainians, having been tested by this war, will still be sincere, grateful, free,” he said. “I’m sure that after this war, something will change. The relations between the American people and Ukrainian people are already changing. They have become much closer in our feelings. We know that we have the same thing in mind when we mention freedom.”

He told the audience of primarily college students that their generation will be crucial in helping Ukraine come back from the war.

During the question and answer portion of the event, student after student, many of whom spoke Ukrainian to Zelenskyy, asked: What more can we do from abroad?

His answer: Keep grappling with the realities of the war, and keep talking about it.

“This is the most important thing: for the people to know the truth of this ongoing war,” he said. “This is not just another crisis. This is a bloody war, a fierce war, a cruel war.”

To one Russian student, who asked Zelenskyy almost desperately what more she could do as a Russian for the Ukrainian cause, he further emphasized this point, saying that it’s even more important for her to spread this information in Russian circles who are blocked off from the truth by their government.

“For the people who sometimes unfortunately cannot see or hear that truth… you can penetrate this wall,” he said. “You can present that truth to them.”

Danielle Echeverria is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: danielle.echeverria@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @DanielleEchev

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