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Ukraine's Zelenskiy Underlines National Unity In New Year's Address

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for national unity as he used his first New Year's address to push a message of reconciliation for the country, now in its sixth year of war with Russia-backed separatists.

In his televised speech broadcast on January 1, Zelenskiy tried to burnish a common-man image, telling viewers he didn't want to bore them with terminology such as gross domestic product, or “dropping inflation, implementation, diversification, and other unintelligible words.”

Instead, he pointed to Ukrainian passports, saying that they don't have labels indicating if a person is a "patriot."

Nor, he said, is there a label indicating if someone is a "Banderite"-- a reference to the controversial 20th century nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, who is hailed by many Ukrainians as a freedom fighter. In Russia, he is seen as a traitor to the Soviet Union who collaborated with the Nazis.

“Our passports do not designate what is a proper or improper Ukrainian,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy was elected in a landslide in April, a victory propelled in large part by people supporting his call for resolving the war against Russia-backed separatists.

Since then, he has made a number of significant conciliatory moves, including two major swaps of prisoners with Russia.

In the most recent swap, which occurred on December 29, the two sides exchanged a total of 200 people: Ukraine handed over 124 prisoners, while the separatists released 76.

In the New Year's speech, Zelenskiy called for more mutual respect among all Ukrainians.

“Dear Ukrainians! In the new 2020 year, I want all of us to respect each other,” he said. “To be in good health, and have plenty and many reasons to smile. I wish everyone…a good night's sleep, not to overeat, and of course, that the morning dizziness is a light and pleasant dizziness.

"And let's remember that to love Ukraine is to love all Ukrainians," he said.

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    RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service has seen its audience grow significantly since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022 and is among the most cited media outlets in the country. Its bold, in-depth reporting from the front lines has won many accolades and awards. Its comprehensive coverage also includes award-winning reporting by the Donbas.Realities and Crimea.Realities projects and the Schemes investigative unit.