KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday he remains committed to the search for peace. He again begged for more help in the form of military equipment before fighting escalated in the east of the country.
He repeated these calls during an interview with the Associated Press (AP), a day after the deaths of 52 people in an attack on the city of Kramatorsk and shortly after evidence of the killing of civilians by the Russian army was discovered.
“No one wants to negotiate with the person or people who tortured these people. This is very understandable. And as a man, as a father, I understand this very well,” Mr. Zelensky said. [Mais] we don’t want to miss opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution.”
Wearing the khaki garb that marked his transformation into a warlord, he looked visibly exhausted but driven by the will to persevere. He spoke to the AP in the presidential office complex, where windows and corridors are protected by sandbag walls and heavily armed soldiers.
Russian troops withdrawn from northern Ukraine are now regrouping, expected to retake the eastern region of Donbass, including the besieged port city of Mariupol, which Ukrainian fighters are struggling to defend.
The president said those defenders pinned down “most of the enemy’s forces,” calling the battle for Mariupol the current “heart of the war.”
Mr. Zelenskiy said he was confident Ukrainians would accept peace despite the horrors they had witnessed during more than six weeks of war.
Among them were eerie images of civilian bodies found in courtyards, parks and city squares and buried in mass graves in the Kiev suburb of Bucha after the withdrawal of Russian troops. Ukrainian and Western leaders accused Moscow of war crimes.
Russia falsely claimed that Bucha’s scenes were staged. She also blamed Ukraine for the attack on the Kramatorsk train station as thousands fled ahead of the Russian advance.
Despite hopes for peace, Mr. Zelensky acknowledged that he needed to be “realistic” about the prospects for a quick settlement, given that talks so far have been limited to low-level talks that have not included Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Zelenskiy’s feelings of resignation and disappointment were evident when asked if the arms and other hardware shipments his country has received from the United States and other Western countries are enough to turn the tide of the war.
“Not yet,” he said, switching to English to make his point. Of course, this is not enough.”
However, he noted increased support from Europe and said that arms shipments from the US have accelerated.
After meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv earlier Saturday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he expected new European Union (EU) sanctions against Russia, even as he defended his country’s opposition to cut off Russian natural gas supplies.
The US, EU and UK have responded to images of Bucha with new sanctions, including against Putin’s adult daughters. While the EU first took on Russia’s energy sector by banning coal, it has so far failed to agree to cut imports of oil and natural gas, which fill Russia’s military coffers but on which Europe depends.
On Friday in Kyiv, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the Ukrainian leader with a questionnaire marking the first step in applying for EU membership. She said the process of completing the application could take several weeks – extraordinarily quickly – although it would take much longer to become a member.
Mr. Zelenskiy became introspective when asked how the pace of arms shipments affected his people and whether more lives could have been saved if help had arrived sooner.
“Many times we look for answers in someone else, but I often look for answers in myself,” he said. Have we done enough to get (a weapon)? Have we done enough to make these leaders believe in us? Have we done enough?
“Are we really the best in this situation? Who knows? I don’t know.”.
AP photographer Evgeny Maloletka participated in the preparation of the article.