Ukrainian President urges students to fight disinformation

04 Aug 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reflected on the heroism and atrocities of the war in his country and urged young people to use social media to help "show the truth", during an address to university students hosted by The Australian National University (ANU).

President Zelenskyy addressed the ANU community in a sold-out event at Llewellyn Hall on Wednesday 3 August, speaking via video link from Ukraine. Thousands of people watched the event, which was broadcast online and to 20 Australian universities around the country.  

He called for people to continue to help Ukraine by "standing for the truth and debunking the myth so masterfully and so skillfully fabricated by [the] Russian propaganda machine". 

"Russia spends billions on their propaganda machine," President Zelenskyy said. 

"We personally know that the enemy has come to our land, but in different corners of the globe, which are far from Ukraine, they spread ... information or policy that they haven't invaded anyone and that works, unfortunately. And even after a lot of years of the war, people can't open their heart to the truth. 

"Please share this information with everyone. Students and youth, by using social networks you have an opportunity to show the truth about Ukraine that will help us indeed." 

In his first address to Australia since speaking to Federal Parliament in March, President Zelenskyy said Russia should be held accountable for its actions, and that while some countries wanted to give Russia an opportunity to "save face", the world needed to realise it wasn't interested in doing so.  

"Everyday [the] world is shocked by the new messages about new Russian atrocities," he said.  

"It has been already 161 days and it's important not to forget none of those days.  

"The one who wants to save its face doesn't commit the hundreds, the thousands of military crimes and crimes against humanity."  

President Zelenskyy said he didn't know if it would be possible for Ukraine and Russia to have good relations after the war. 

"Every family has lost something...whether it was a child, whether it was the father." 

The event, presented by the ANU Centre for European Studies and the National Security College, included a Q&A session with students facilitated by ANU Chancellor the Hon Julie Bishop. The question topics included the impact on Ukraine's economy, China's attitude to the war, how Ukraine is supporting people with disabilities impacted by the war, Ukraine's victory at Eurovision 2022, and how President Zelenskyy remains optimistic.  

In response to a question from first-year ANU international security studies student Bridget Shelleyabout the hardest thing to accept as a leader fighting a war, President Zelenskyy said he had been shocked by what people are capable of.   

"On one side, our people who are capable of such heroism, who went out on the street and started to stop the military equipment tanks with bare hands," he said. 

"And the next part of humanity, another side, the people who came to our land. It's a shock for me.  

"I never thought that people are capable of those [things]. We have seen ... the horror movies ... but I never thought that the reality in Ukraine would be even more scary than the scariest movies." 

President Zelenskyy acknowledged the support of the people of Australia and the Australian government, which has included financial aid, military and humanitarian assistance and sanctions against Russia, and called for the international community to continue to back Ukraine. He said 12 million Ukrainians had been displaced and millions of jobs had been lost, but the country would rebuild its economy in time.    

"War is not over and today we, as never before, need your support, need support of all the civilised countries, along with whom we will most surely stop and conquer evil." 

In opening the event, Ms Bishop said President Zelenskyy had stood firm in the face of Russian aggression.  

"His energy, his determination, his advocacy for freedom against tyranny has inspired people around the world," she said. 

Ukraine's Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Vasyl Myroshnychenko, also addressed the crowd, telling students it was important for countries to build resilience to meet the challenges they may face. 

"At the end of the day, it's so important to be ready, to be ready to die for your country when there is a need for that," he said. "Because Ukrainians were not ready to die, but we did. It turned out we were ready, we were prepared.  

"We need to build this resilience throughout the society and resilience does not just come out of thin air, you need to work in that you need to build it." 

In March, ANU released a statement condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and announcing the University would suspend ties with Russian institutions.  

Watch President Zelenskyy's address to ANU at ANU TV.