The Volokh Conspiracy

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Zelenskiy on Why He Stayed in Kiev

Perhaps an insight on how many courageous actions actually come about.


I was watching "Year," a documentary by prominent Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Komarov about the first year since the full-on invasion of Ukraine (with English subitles); and I was struck by this exchange he had with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Naturally, one always needs to be skeptical about such things: Zelenskiy is, after all, a politician, and a trained actor to boot, with a friendly interviewer and editor. But most significantly, he's a human being, and we humans are masters of spinning things, whatever our walk of life. Still, this had an air of the real, perhaps precisely because it wasn't particularly self-aggrandizing:

Komarov: Mr. President, on February 24, when there was an extraordinary atmosphere, when the [Russian] subversive and reconnaissance group was in Pechersk [in Kiev itself], did you think that the Russians could come in through those doors [pointing to the door of the President's office]? Did you think about what to do in such a situation?

Zelenskiy: Everyone thought about this, not because I was thinking about it, but the bodyguards constantly reminded me of this.

Komarov: Did you think that you could have been killed that day? Even when you hear that about yourself, it's chilling inside.

Zelenskiy: No, I was told to pack up because I was a target, that they have to do everything they can to get me to a safe place.

And at that moment, I think, one thinks about something else. I didn't think about what might happen, about myself. Again, this is not about heroism. I thought about the consequences of my leaving and what would happen.

The responsibility is on me. If I leave, no one will ask afterwards about who suggested it. There will be only the result: "You have abandoned your nation. We believe you have betrayed us."