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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a media conference at the Europa building in Brussels, June 5, 2019. Russia lost influence and friends since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989. But the nuclear superpower still holds sway over several of its neighbors in Europe and keeps others in an uneasy neutrality. The Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine and the humanitarian tragedy it provoked over the past two weeks may have raised an Western outcry of heartfelt support.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a media conference at the Europa building in Brussels, June 5, 2019. Russia lost influence and friends since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989. But the nuclear superpower still holds sway over several of its neighbors in Europe and keeps others in an uneasy neutrality. The Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine and the humanitarian tragedy it provoked over the past two weeks may have raised an Western outcry of heartfelt support. (Riccardo Pareggiani/AP)

As the Russian invasion enters its third week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday he was grateful for those who have fought to defend the people of Ukraine — and he remained defiant in noting that they will never be “slaves” to Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin.

In a video posted to his Telegram account, Zelenskyy, still reeling from a Russian attack Wednesday on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, thanked the people of Ukraine who “persevered” and fought back against the invading forces that have bombarded the country. After he announced a law allowing Ukraine to seize any property owned by Russia or Russian residents, Zelenskyy sent another message to Putin, without saying his name.

“Thanks to our military, the National Guard, the border guards, the police, the Territorial Defense Forces and everyone who joined the defense of the state, we did not become slaves. And we never will,” he said. “Because this is our spirit, this is our destiny.”

He spoke as the first high-level talks Thursday between Ukraine and Russia since the invasion failed to produce an agreement. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba echoed Zelenskyy in emphasizing that Ukraine remains “strong” and caused Russia’s initial invasion plans to “fail.”

“We are ready to seek balanced diplomatic solutions to put an end to this war, but we will not surrender,” Kuleba said at a news conference in Turkey. Kuleba tweeted that he is pushing for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to agree to allow humanitarian help for Mariupol and a 24-hour cease-fire.

The meeting between Kuleba and Lavrov followed Wednesday’s events in Mariupol, in which at least three people, including a child, were killed and 17 more were injured in a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital. The airstrike, which buried patients under rubble despite a cease-fire, was denounced by Zelenskyy as an “atrocity.”

But Lavrov, who argued without evidence that the Mariupol building was occupied by Ukrainian “radicals,” falsely claimed Thursday that Russia had not attacked Ukraine.

“We are not planning to attack other countries,” Lavrov said in Turkey. “We didn’t attack Ukraine in the first place.”

The Biden administration and its allies have indicated they see no clear end to the military phase of this conflict — and that Putin’s endgame, whatever it may be, is largely uncontrollable. The reality of the situation is coupled with a humanitarian crisis that has prompted more than 2.3 million people to flee Ukraine since the start of the invasion, according to the United Nations.

Zelenskyy said Thursday that more than 60,000 Ukrainians were evacuated from besieged cities Wednesday. The figure cited by Zelenskyy on Telegram was higher than an earlier estimate that about 35,000 people were evacuated Wednesday.

The Ukrainian president said humanitarian corridors would continue to operate Thursday. Buses and supplies of food, water and medicine are expected to head toward the cities of Mariupol, Volnovakha, Izyum and Sumy, as well as towns outside Kyiv, he said.

“Russian troops have already created a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, but that is [just] a part of their plan,” Zelenskyy said in the video Thursday. “They want to humiliate our people so that they take bread and water from the occupants’ hands.”

As part of the wide-ranging, extensive sanctions and actions taken against Russia by countries worldwide, the Ukrainian government announced Thursday that Zelenskyy signed into law a measure called “On Basic Principles of Compulsory Seizure of Property in the Russian Federation and Its Residents.” The law allows Ukraine to forcibly strip property rights from Russia and its residents, “given the full-scale aggressive war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

“We will find all the property of propagandists and people associated with them, and do everything so that it is confiscated, wherever it might be,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy has described the Russian invasion as a means to enslave the Ukrainian people. During a speech broadcast to cities across Europe last week, Zelenskyy said a Ukrainian victory against Russia would be a “victory of light over darkness, of freedom over slavery.”

On Thursday, the Ukrainian president said he recently spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about additional actions against Russia, “based on reality, not on declarations or abstract speculation.” Zelenskyy noted that the European Union is still weighing Ukraine’s request to join the body.

“We are waiting for a concrete signal,” he said in the video.

After highlighting how the Ukrainian military is “repelling attacks in key areas” throughout the country, Zelenskyy looked ahead amid an invasion with no end in sight. He vowed to rebuild battered cities through special state programs that will be created to address the damage. And Zelenskyy clarified that this would be done after Ukraine defeats Russia.

“After the war, after our victory, we will rebuild all that was ruined, very quickly, and in very high quality,” he said.


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