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Zelensky makes a dramatic appeal to the Russian people, saying ‘the people of Ukraine want peace.’


KYIV, Ukraine — As Russia prepared to invade his country, Ukraine’s president made a dramatic televised plea to avoid war, appealing directly to the Russian people and their nations’ shared history and culture.

“Listen to the voice of reason,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said after midnight Thursday in Kyiv. “The Ukrainian people want peace.”

But with the United States saying that Russian troops “are ready to go,” Mr. Zelensky said he had tried to call the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.

“The result was silence,” Mr. Zelensky said.

Which is why he appealed directly to Mr. Putin’s constituents. While acknowledging that Russians, whose news diet is tightly controlled, were unlikely to hear his words, Mr. Zelensky insisted that Ukraine had no grievance with Russia and meant no harm to Russians.

He noted that Ukraine and Russia shared a common border more than 2,000 kilometers long, and that “on that border there are almost 200,000 soldiers, and thousands of military vehicles.”

“Your leader approved them to make a step forward on the territory of another country,” he said, suggesting that Mr. Putin had authorized troops to enter Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky disputed the picture of his country painted by the Russian government and news media, who have made claims of genocide.

“You are told we are Nazis, but can a people support Nazis that gave more than eight million lives for the victory over Nazism?” said Mr. Zelensky, whose background is Jewish. “How can I be a Nazi? Tell my grandpa, who went through the whole war in the infantry of the Soviet Army and died as a colonel in independent Ukraine.”

It was, in all, an impassioned bid to save his country — delivered mostly in Russian, his native language. And it cut a somber, rational, statesmanlike tone, in contrast to a speech Monday night by Mr. Putin, who delivered a rant that sought to deny Ukraine’s independent statehood.

Mr. Zelensky spoke of his personal ties to the Donbas region, the location of two breakaway republics whose independence Mr. Putin recognized with the stroke of a pen on Monday night. He also sought to remind viewers of how enmeshed Ukraine and Russia are.

“Many of you have been in Ukraine,” he said. “Many of you have relatives in Ukraine. Some people studied in Ukrainian universities. You know Ukraine. You know our character, our principles, what matters to us.”

He went on to implore: “Listen to yourselves. Listen to the voice of reason.”

Still, he said, Ukraine and Ukrainians would not shrink from defending themselves.

“We don’t need war,” he said. “We won’t attack, but defend ourselves. And you will see our faces — not our spines, but our faces.”

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