Zelensky on facing down Russian invasion: 'God chooses what we can endure'

In a Friday interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the personal experience of leading during the Russian invasion, which has separated him from his wife and two children.

"I am OK. I do what I can and each morning I'm thinking that I don't do enough, and that is the biggest problem for me," Zelensky said via video link from Kyiv. "But that's good that I don't have so much free time to think about these things and I don't have any time to think about me, and it's a pity that I don't have time to think about spending time with my family. That is a problem because that is the love of my life."

A former comedian and actor who was elected president in 2019, Zelensky had many doubters in the first years of his new role. But after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February and Zelensky's family fled the country to safety, the 44-year-old leader remained, and his stirring oratory and courage has earned him comparisons to such iconic leaders as Winston Churchill.

Asked by Baier to reflect on that transformation, Zelensky, through an interpreter, framed his plight in terms of destiny.

"God chooses what we can endure, and I think that this was not by chance," he responded. "I know that we will stand through this and my partners today are the people of Ukraine, and I am now working 24/7, and I fulfill my work as much as I can efficiently."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen onscreen during a video feed to the Belgian Parliament.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen during a video feed to the Belgian Parliament on Thursday. (Virginie Lefour/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

Baier also asked Zelensky if he knew how many assassination attempts had been made on his life, to which Zelensky smiled.

"I don't know," he replied. "There are things that are difficult for me to count, and my intelligence says that there were such attempts."

While Zelensky said in the interview that his government would "gladly accept a ceasefire” with Russia in order to help spare the lives of civilians in Ukrainian cities like Mariupol that have endured relentless attacks, he also made an appeal to the United States to send him heavy weaponry. "Just give us missiles; just give us airplanes,” Zelensky said.

In the event of a ceasefire, Zelensky said he hoped that the U.S. would act as a guarantor to help enforce it. Since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, President Biden has drawn a line at sending U.S. troops to help defend Ukraine, although, as Yahoo News reported, since 2015 the U.S. has trained Ukrainian forces in both countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be stopped in his goal of rebuilding the former Soviet empire, Zelensky told Baier. “The more you give them, the more their appetite grows in terms of territories,” Zelensky said of leaders like Putin.

Nurse Svetlana Savchenko stands next to a destroyed building in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine.
Nurse Svetlana Savchenko stands next to a destroyed building in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Describing Putin as an authoritarian who is stuck in an information bubble, Zelensky said Ukraine is not willing to offer him territory in exchange for peace. "We do not trade our territory,” he said, adding, "That's how they took our Crimea, they took away our Donbas, and now they want to take more of our territory. We will not let them."

Zelensky's appearance on Fox News was itself notable given that the cable network's top-rated host, Tucker Carlson, has regularly seemed to side with Putin.

"Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? I'm serious. Why shouldn't I root for Russia? Which I am," Carlson said on his show in 2019.

In January of this year as Putin was massing troops along the border with Ukraine, Carlson again wondered aloud on his show about what was so wrong with publicly backing Russia over Ukraine.

"Wait a second, why is it disloyal to side with Russia?" he asked.

Carlson's remarks have been played regularly on Russian state television, and Mother Jones obtained a leaked March 3 Kremlin memo to Russian media organizations that was favorable to the Fox News host.

“It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally,” the memo stated.

Zelensky, however, has proven to be highly adept at addressing audiences around the world in an effort to secure support for Ukraine, appearing via video link from Kyiv before world parliaments as well as on news programs to decry Putin's invasion of his country.

On Friday, Zelensky did so again, vowing that the war in his country would end “only with our victory.”

Asked if he had a specific message for the Russian leader, Zelensky replied with a message some Democrats may believe could apply equally to Fox News programs like the one hosted by Carlson. “I wish him to watch television that is not Russian to see what's really happening in the world,” he said.