President of Ukraine

Address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to students and rectors of higher educational institutions of Ukraine

19 May 2022 - 20:03

Address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to students and rectors of higher educational institutions of Ukraine

I am really glad to have the opportunity to talk to you today and I hope that this will be exactly communication. Not a lecture or seminar, which I'm sure you already have enough.

I would like to build a dialogue with you, so in my speech I will ask questions, and I am interested to hear each and everyone who would like to answer. 

So when you ask your questions, please choose one or several of my questions and give your answer. Let's start.

This is a very special time for our country. Millions of our people are now fighting for the right to life and freedom for our people. And it really opens up a space of possibilities.

Right now it is our country that is in a situation where we can choose the future for it as we decide. That is, it is not just an adaptation to the conditions created for Ukraine by other generations or even other states. As it is for other countries, and as it was for our state before the war. We can consciously reshape our lives. Here is what is possible now.

These are great opportunities, this is the time to determine which Ukraine you want to live in.

So my first question to you today is about this: what should our state be like? And this question logically continues with a number of related questions.

Do you want to live in Ukraine? Do you expect changes from Ukraine to live here? Or, on the contrary, you believe that our country already has everything for you to live here.

Let's move on. There are many countries in the world that are talking about reforms. Even the most developed ones always have it. The words "the system is not working and needs to be fixed." This is a common narrative for many politicians.

But in few countries, as in ours now, there are opportunities not just to "fix" the existing system, but to create a new one. Based on what is best. Not only here, now. But also in those countries where it would be worth taking the best.

Of course, this war put an end to many things from the life of Ukraine before. But not to all. For example, our people who have gone abroad while the hostilities are going on say that certain things in our lives are much more progressive than in other countries.

Digitization, which we started doing in the public sphere. Internet and communication, which are very accessible due to business. The service sector, in which speed and willingness to work is often greater than in many European countries. It turned out so.

We must also not forget that even during a full-scale war, our institutions did not break down. Banking sphere works. The budget system and public administration have endured. Defense and logistics are ensured despite the fact that the enemy in some respects has more forces and equipment.

That is, society has a certain foundation, and it would be unwise not to use it. But we must understand that Russia will always be there. And it may always be a threat. After February 24, we have already achieved a lot. And now, for example, you can see how the world evaluates our potential in a fundamentally different way.

Perhaps you have seen how two Forbes articles are compared, very interestingly: the headline of February 12 - will Russia invade Ukraine; and the headline of May 16 - will Ukraine’s army invade Russia.

That is, the world began to look differently at the situation in our region and the balance of power.

But it is important what we think about ourselves. What our people feel about our state.

So, my next question to you: what should Ukraine be like so that you can be sure that we can protect ourselves from any threat?

This question also continues with a number of others.

For example, a professional contract army or with the addition of a certain form of conscription?

How big should the army be?

What share of public expenditures should we spend on defense? The biggest or not?

And even in the conditions of the future peace?

Should private military companies be allowed?

Should there be a universal military obligation in Ukraine for all boys and girls, as is the case, for example, in Israel, so that all our people can defend themselves when needed?

And should all citizens or a significant part, as is the case in other states, be involved in military training every year? Suppose, while maintaining the salary and job at the time of the training.

Are you ready to personally defend Ukraine with weapons in hands? Or do you think it is fair that someone else will fight on the battlefield?

These questions of mine are not rhetorical. We really need answers. And it's not just something purely functional. About state governance or politics. It's about how our people can understand each other and how to stay in Ukraine, because this is our home. Your home.

How not to quarrel in it and live developing common interests. For example, people often remain in the rear, but demand from those on the frontline to drive the occupiers all the way to Kuban. It is often the case that a person in the military sphere does not go beyond photographs in camouflage, but at the same time behaves as if he can lead the troops better than anyone else.

What is your attitude to such people, for example, in politics? Or in the media? Anyone, it doesn't matter. And how should their personal emotions and ambitions relate to reality, to real war?

Does a non-combatant have the right to demand something from warriors? Demand meeting some of your requirements and expectations?

Is that fair?

You probably see that this war can end for Ukraine with certain security guarantees.

And in this regard, I have the following question for you:

Which countries do you see among the possible guarantors of security for Ukraine?

Should we choose those we trust? Or should we focus on everyone who is strong enough?

Security guarantees for Ukraine are a really good opportunity to create a tool for decades that will allow us to live in peace. Although it will not allow us to be careless about security. All the same, we will always think about defense. And we must understand that there is no better security than the willingness of citizens to defend their own state. Because it is the protection of oneself first of all - one's family, one's home, one's land, one's way of life. This is the state - all this.

So, if any of you are not personally ready to defend the state - well, tell me why?

Perhaps you see your other contribution to the common national security, which is really special?

Maybe it's something in the field of cybersecurity. You may want to join some form of volunteering. Perhaps, as future businessmen or scientists - you see for yourself some other option, the third, fourth, fifth.


So, my next question to you:

Should the state regulate at its discretion who to involve in defense and how, or leave people the choice during the war?

Of course, I have my answers to these questions. But Ukraine differs from Russia and other tyrannies with the fact that not one person decides everything for the whole nation, but people can choose the rules of life for themselves.

So, the next block of questions.

Given that Russia will remain our neighbor, we need to consider the format of security inside Ukraine. The key question is about weapons.

Is there a need for the order of possession of firearms by ordinary people that, say, we see in the United States?

Or, as in Switzerland, in a society of "citizens with weapons" who can quickly join the defense of their country, and where, for example, a former soldier can keep at home the weapons with which he served.

What should be the weapons system?

Should it be allowed to carry it openly? Should it be limited to the right to own and keep it at home?

Should the rules be the same for all regions of the country or should more liberal ones be provided for those regions where there is a greater threat of invasion?

Do you know how to use weapons?

How should the border with Russia work after this war? Should it be completely closed or open?

In other words, how do you see coexistence with the Russian Federation and its citizens after the war?

Could there be what they call the word "relationship" between us and them?

Or should it be deliberately restricted, even if it occurs at some level?

Let's move on.

It’s been a long time since I was a student and that's understandable. And I think more about which universities my children will study at. Which Ukrainian universities. This is very important. Maybe my daughter, who will soon be 18, will be in an auditorium one of you is currently studying in.

But I remember well when I was a student. And I remember that many people of my generation felt a certain loss of time.

Years in auditoria, years of lectures... It seemed to many and, I'm sure, now someone thinks for sure that 5 or 6 years at university is a long time. Probably, if it is a medical specialty, it takes 7 years and a lifetime to study, taking into account all the nuances.

But if it is some other specialty, does it always take 5 years? Perhaps 2, 3, 4 are enough for some, given how the modern economy works and how quickly technology is transformed.

What do you think about it? And what economic life are you preparing for?

Do you anticipate that you will have to change professions during your life? Several times. Or what professions, in your opinion, will always exist and will not be replaced by artificial intelligence and robotics?

Maybe it is worth increasing the share of private business in the education system? What do you think about private universities, what do you think about private schools, private education?

Can your university's curriculum compete with the curricula and courses currently offered in a variety of formats outside of universities?

Don't you feel like you're wasting your time?

Because now in the world, even more than before, the main thing is speed. There is such a feeling. Speed in the ability to learn. In everything. At work, in the constant transformation that life demands of the individual. Modern life.

I must have been talking for a long time already. Then the last question. Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine has been going on for three months already. After 8 years of war in Donbas. This war for us now is undoubtedly a war for independence. We can say that this is a postponed war. Postponed for 30 years, given how we gained independence in 1991. Or for hundreds of years, given the previous history of our great state.

I have no doubt that we will gain independence. And it will be in our history the same as in other countries that fought for independence and won. Countries that ceased to be beggars and became subjects. The real masters of their lives and their future.

But we must remember now and always that the price of all this is tens of thousands of lives. The lives of all those killed by the enemy.

Tens of thousands. For independence. And for the opportunity for each of you to choose how to live and which Ukraine to live in.

So, my question to you:

Is it worth it?

I really hope to hear the answer to this question.