Zelensky, unshaven and dressed in a black T-shirt, delivered his speech with the Ukrainian flag at his leftTobia Nava

The president of Ukraine said his country would be rebuilt on the experience of defending itself from the Russian invasion, as he urged Ukrainian students to imagine a future after Ukraine was victorious.

In an emotional speech to students broadcast live to the Cambridge Union (10/6), alongside eight other British universities, Zelensky said fighting the Russians in the Donbas was like trying to “swim against the current”.

“For 107 days, we have been trying to hold back the second army in the world. For 107 days, we have fought a nuclear power”, he said.

The event was organised by the Ukrainian Student Union. In the Union chamber, members of Cambridge’s affiliated Ukrainian society occupied the first two rows of the chamber, some wearing the Ukrainian flag.

Zelensky, unshaven and dressed in a black T-shirt, delivered his speech with the Ukrainian flag on his left. He spoke first in Ukrainian, before switching to English after technical difficulties muted the live translation; he joked that it was caused by a “Russian cyber attack”.

Zelensky, as he often has, tailored his speech to the eight universities “for us to speak the same language”. This began with the image of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race with Ukraine and the free world on the same boat. He then compared the testing of the Ukrainian people to a tripos-like test and the Nazi bombing of Coventry to the Russian bombing of eastern Ukraine.

Twice the chamber rose in a standing ovationTobia Nava

He emphasised that the UK and Ukraine shared a “joint history” and that Russia was fighting “to delete our state and our identity and to deny our existence, to delete from memory our philosophers, writers, economists, scientists.

“They have a phobia of freedom…freedom in a neighbouring country is dangerous for Russia. We are fighting for our future. They are fighting for somebody else’s past.”

Zelensky referred several times to Boris Johnson’s “powerful support” in acting “not with words but with deeds”.

The president spoke for a quarter of an hour before each university had the opportunity for a Ukrainian student to ask a question.

Ryder told Zelensky that the Union was the oldest free speech society in the world and that his name “will be etched into our proud history”.

Answering students’ questions, Zelensky appeared confident Ukraine would win the war, repeatedly detailing his plans for the reconstruction of his country once its territorial integrity had been restored.“Ukraine will win because we are fighting for our homeland, whereas Russians are fighting for other people’s farms”, he said.

Twice, the chamber rose to standing ovations.


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The event closed with a question from Channel 4′s Matt Frei who asked Zelensky what he would be willing to concede to Russia to achieve a peace deal. This was met with sighs from members of the Ukraine society in the chamber.

Zelinsky answered that “every war has to finish at the table of negotiation. The president of the Russian Federation doesn’t understand that. That’s it. You need both countries to bring peace.

“There is something we can’t compromise on, and that is the sovereignty of our country,” he added.