Zelenskyy Says Russia-Ukraine Talks Could Take Place in Jerusalem

Ukraine's president tells Haaretz in Kyiv that Israel can play 'important role' in mediation because of its 'rich history'

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Saturday.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Saturday.Credit: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS
Nir Gontarz
Nir Gontarz

KYIV – A few hours ago I got a phone call inviting me to a meeting with Zelenskyy. I received a map of the capital Kyiv, marking the location I needed to go to. I went there. After me, representatives of leading world media outlets started arriving there as well. Heavily armed soldiers verified that we were among the invitees. We were put in black cars that took us to a complex of fancy buildings that used to serve as dwellings, not far from President Zelenskyy’s office.

After one of the most meticulous security checks I had ever gone through, in the course of which I was stripped of my phone, I was asked to walk exactly behind a soldier and security guard walking ahead of me, not straying even an inch. The explanation? To avoid the anti-personnel mines that had been placed in some of the rooms and corridors. The entire complex, it appeared, was the best-guarded compound in the world these days. All around were armored vehicles, anti-tank missile launchers, sand bags, firing positions, tractors (apparently for snow removal) and dozens of armed men.

The dominant color of the high-ceilinged room we entered was military green. The walls were adorned in the European tradition. The curtains were the color of a military uniform. The ceilings had colorful parrots as decoration. “I know you’ve already been told,” the president’s personal spokesman told the journalists, “but I want to again make sure that none of you have any broadcasting equipment, such as phones or live broadcasting equipment. Your personal safety depends on this.” The president’s security guards drew the curtains.

Ukrainians cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, Saturday, March 12, 2022.Credit: Efrem Lukatsky /AP

After a short wait, the president entered the room and sat down, wearing olive, Palladium-like shoes, black cargo pants and an olive-colored sweatshirt. The president, claiming that the Russian army’s losses were 10-fold higher than the Ukrainian army’s losses, seemed relaxed during the almost one-hour session in which he answered questions. No one from his team interfered during this almost clandestine event, and no one inquired in advance about the questions we wanted to ask. Only when speaking about Ukrainian women and children who had been killed by the Russians did he seem emotional, with glittering eyes.

Zelenskyy first answered a question by Haaretz, relating to how he saw Kyiv’s future. “If they annihilate all of us, they’ll enter Kyiv,” he said soberly. “If there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people, whom Russia is now mobilizing, and they all come with hundreds or thousands of tanks, they’ll penetrate Kyiv. We understand this. If they carpet bomb and erase the historical memory of this whole region, erasing Russia’s history, Europe’s history, then they’ll come to Kyiv. If that is their goal, let them enter. But then they’ll have to live on this land alone. Certainly, without us, since they won’t find any friends here.”

Regarding Israeli mediation between Ukraine and Russia, Zelenskyy added that “among the founding fathers of Israel, there were Ukrainian Jews who brought with them their history and a fierce desire to build a wonderful country, as it is now. So, it’s not so bad to have such mediation."

"I talked to Mister Bennett and told him that I don’t think it would be right at this point to meet in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. These aren’t places in which we could reach any understandings on stopping the war. I’m not talking about technical meetings, but about meetings between leaders. I believe Israel could serve as such a meeting place, especially in Jerusalem.”

According to Zelenskyy, “in talking about security guarantees [for Ukraine] and the countries that should be involved in agreements about such guarantees, Israel should definitely be among them.”

Ukraine’s president noted that “Many Jews emigrated to Israel from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. There are large numbers of people who speak Ukrainian or Russian there, one and a half million, I believe. These are people with influence on decision makers and I assume that they definitely support us, even though some may support Russia too, since the media play an important role. In Israel, as in Germany and the United States, Russian media has a lot of impact. There are hardly any Ukrainian channels there. I think it’s time to change that.”

At the end of the meeting, when he was about to leave the room, a French journalist noted that he looked tired. The president, who even in the midst of a war has not forgotten his sense of humor, turned to the journalist and asked him: “Do you know why I look a bit tired? Maybe it’s because I am.”

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