• The San Juan Daily Star

In his own speech, Zelenskyy rebuts Putin’s reading of history

President Vladimir V. Putin meeting with members of Russia’s Security Council in Moscow on Monday.

By Marc Santora

Just before President Vladimir Putin of Russia presided over Victory Day in Moscow with a parade of powerful weapons, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine released a video Monday in which he walked alone through the streets of Kyiv.

“On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory,” Zelenskyy said as he walked past government buildings protected with barriers and barbed wire. “The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win.”

The slickly produced video was an attempt to turn Putin’s justification for his invasion of Ukraine against the Russian leader.

The Kremlin has offered multiple rationales for its invasion, but Putin has repeatedly returned to the false argument that the Ukrainian government is run by Nazis who were oppressing and even committing a “genocide” against Russian-speakers across Ukraine. In his speech at the start of the parade Monday, he again cast his invasion as a fight against Nazism.

It is a lie that military analysts say has played a role in undermining the Russian invasion — with Russian soldiers surprised that they were not greeted as liberators.

Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said this weekend that by destroying mostly Russian-speaking cities in eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers “essentially took revenge and retaliated further against Russian-speaking Ukrainians who did not meet them with flowers, as they had dreamed they would.”

In his video, Zelenskyy turned Putin’s argument on its head, accusing him of carrying on the legacy of Adolf Hitler and the forces of fascism.

Ukraine’s 20th-century history is complicated and stained with blood. Much of what is present-day Ukraine became a republic of the Soviet Union after World War I and suffered through a famine in the 1930s under Josef Stalin’s leadership. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, saw the Germans as liberators, according to historians.

Ukraine’s insurgent forces led by Stepan Bandera fought alongside the Nazis against Soviet forces for a period of the war, and some Russians still cite that as evidence of where Ukrainian sympathies lie today. But for many Ukrainians, it is a more complicated story and, however its wartime history is read, offers no justification for Russia’s aggression today.

Putin has gone even further in his misreading of history, saying that Ukraine itself is an invention of the Bolshevik revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin, who he said had mistakenly endowed Ukraine with a sense of statehood by allowing it autonomy within the newly created Soviet state.

“Modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia, more specifically the Bolshevik, communist Russia,” Putin said just days before launching his invasion.

Zelenskyy has repeatedly used the Russian leader’s own words to demonstrate what he says are the Kremlin’s true intentions: the destruction of the Ukrainian state.

In the new video, he said only “a madman” would follow the path of fascists who started a war that claimed at least 50 million lives.

Putin, he said, is “the one who is repeating the horrific crimes of Hitler’s regime today.”

“He is doomed,” Zelenskyy said. “Because he was cursed by millions of ancestors when he began to imitate their killer. And therefore he will lose everything.”

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