President of Ukraine

Statement by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the General Debate of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly

25 September 2019 - 16:50

Statement by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the General Debate of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly

Distinguished President,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen!


On behalf of Ukraine, I congratulate you, Mr. President, on having been elected President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. Ukraine supports the implementation of all ambitious priorities of this year's Assembly.

Let us be honest, everyone present here has different interests, views, values and problems. But there is one thing that unites us all. Each of you, ladies and gentlemen, had the first speech from this rostrum.

Please recall your feelings at that moment. Every one of you, respected and honored today, was once a beginner yet a sincere world politician. And then, a cocktail of pragmatism, skepticism and harsh geopolitical reality has not yet managed to quench your passion, romanticism and unwavering belief that the world can be changed for the better.

Remember how important it was to tell the problems and troubles of your country and your people to the world back then. How important it was to be heard.

I have the same feelings today.

Let me tell you one story. The story of a person for whom "being heard" has become the meaning of life. For this man had a divine voice. He was called one of the best baritones and countertenors in the world. His voice was heard at Carnegie Hall in New York, Notre Dame Cathedral, Covent Garden in London and Grand Opera in Paris. Each of you could have personally heard his incredible singing. But unfortunately, there is one thing that will not allow you to do so. I’ll show you. It looks like this. 12.7 millimeters that not only stopped his career, but also stopped his life. It costs 10 dollars. And, unfortunately, today on our planet it is the value of human life.

There are thousands of such stories, millions of such bullets. Welcome to the XXI century. A century of opportunities. Where instead of "being heard" you have an opportunity to be killed.

The name of the man I’ve told you about was Wassyl Slipak. He was a Ukrainian, a soloist of the Paris National Opera who was killed in Donbas defending Ukraine from the Russian aggression.

The war in Donbas has already lasted five years and five years have passed since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Despite the existence of international law and hundreds of organizations designed to defend it, our country defends its own sovereignty and territorial integrity with weapons in its hands and losing its citizens.

More than 13 thousand people killed. 30 thousand wounded. One and a half million people were forced to leave their homes. Every year, these monstrous numbers are heard here, but with one correction - every year these numbers get bigger. 

The end of the war, the return of all the occupied Ukrainian territories and the prevailing of peace are my tasks. But not at the cost of our citizens' lives, not at the cost of freedom or the right of Ukraine to its own choice.

That is why we need the support of the world. I understand: everyone present here has their own state concern and other people's problems should not worry you more than your own. But in today's world, where we live, there is no longer someone else’s war. None of you can feel safe when there is a war in Ukraine, when there is a war in Europe.

And it can be fatal to think that this does not concern you and will never affect you. You can't think of the global and close your eyes to the details or, as it may seem, even trifles. Because that's how the foundation for the two world wars was laid. And tens of millions of human lives became the price of inattention, silence, inaction or unwillingness to sacrifice one's ambitions. Have humanity started to forget these dreadful lessons of history?

Ukraine remembers them. And Ukraine has always demonstrated its willingness to provide peace in a civilized way. And took steps towards international security. For example, when it gave up its nuclear capability, which at the time was larger than in the UK, France and China combined.

Because it seemed to us that we were all building a different, new world. Where you do not need to have a nuclear weapon to be heard. Where you will be respected for deeds, not for nuclear warheads. 

After all, in this "new" world, our country has lost part of its territories and is losing its citizens almost daily.

That is why, if not Ukraine than who has the right to speak today about the need to rethink and revise current world rules?

Of course, we do not question the authority of international institutions, in particular the United Nations. But we must admit that the mechanisms are not flawless. They start failing and therefore need an update

United Nations. But let's be honest - are nations really united today? And even if so, what exactly unites them? 

Disasters and wars. 

We always hear calls for fair change, just promises, announcement of new initiatives from this highest platform in the world. It is time to make sure that they are always backed by real deeds. Because in the modern world, where the human life costs 10 dollars, words have been devalued long ago.

Let us remember the goal of the UN’s establishment in 1945? To maintain and strengthen peace and international security. But what shall we do when the very basis of international security is at stake?

For any war today - in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Yemen or any other corner of the planet, regardless of the number of casualties - is the greatest threat to the entire civilization. Because in 2019, homo sapiens still resolves conflicts by killing. Throughout its existence, humanity has been constantly finding new ways to overcome distance, transfer information, cure diseases.

And only one thing remains unchanged: contradictions between nations and states are still resolved not by words, but by missiles. 

Not by word. But by war.

Don't think that war is far away. Its methods, technology and weapons have made our planet not so big anymore. And today, the time I spent on the last paragraph is enough to destroy the Earth completely.

This means that each leader is responsible not only for the fate of his own country, but also for the fate of the whole world. In my opinion, we all need to realize that a strong leader is not the one who, without batting an eyelid, sends thousands of soldiers to death. A strong leader is the one who protects everyone's life.

Now let us answer ourselves - what do our meetings give to humanity? If for someone it is only a political theater where they play a role and declare light intentions, which are then crossed out by dark actions?

It's not just a rostrum. And not a scene. And seven and a half billion inhabitants of the planet are not just spectators, but direct participants in real life. The basics of this life scenario are laid here. And today it depends on everyone present whether it will be life at all.

Honestly, I would really like to call this speech “15 minutes that changed the world”. But I am well aware that changing something that has existed for thousands of years is simply impossible in 15 minutes. And behavioral theories say that war is an integral part of human nature. But the world is changing and people are changing with it. And if we once learned writing, mathematics, invented the wheel, penicillin and conquered space, humanity still has a chance.

Being aware of danger for civilization, we must generate other meanings. And fight for a new human mentality where aggression, anger and hatred will be atrophied feelings.

Ladies and Gentlemen! On this day, September 25, Erich Maria Remarque died. And 90 years ago the world saw his novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”. I recall the words from its preface: "This is an attempt to tell about a generation crippled by war. About those who fell victim to it, even fleeing shells". And 90 years ago the world saw another novel. It's Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms". Here's a quote from it: “War cannot be won by victories. The one who wins the war never stops fighting…”.

The world must remember: every next crippled generation is a path to a new war. Which is impossible, just impossible to win with victories.

Someone says now: “There will be no World War III. It will be the last one”. I hope this phrase is an awareness of the threat to the planet, not an announcement.

Thank you!