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In an interview with the BBC on June 16, 2022, Sergey Lavrov claims the following:

[…], whose president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in September 2021 (you didn’t tell your viewers about it, did you?) that, if someone in Ukraine feels Russian, they should leave for Russia. He said that publicly.

The entire transcript of the interview is available.

Is it true that Zelenskyy said that, or anything along those lines, prior to the invasion in February 2022?

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    I suspect that "feels" does a lot lifting there given that Zelensky is a native Russian (rather tha Ukrainian) speaker and his accent was mocked during the 2019 election france24.com/en/…
    – Fizz
    Jun 26 at 23:51
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    Your question title makes it sound like Zelensky wants Ukrainian citizens with Russian origins or Russian-speaking Ukrainians out of country. In reality Zelensky simply asserts that Ukraine is trying to get its occupied territories back, so whoever lives in these territories should consider they will one day find themselves living in Ukraine, and they shall move to other parts of Russia if they don't want to live in Ukraine. Jun 27 at 14:11
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    The word feels here means more like 'considers himself'. He is essentially saying that the Donbas will be Ukraine and not Russian, so if you don't like that , then leave.
    – LUser
    Jun 28 at 9:17
  • Are you asking whether the transcript is reliable, or what? Jun 28 at 19:56
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    @DmitryGrigoryev: to be fair, this was probably Lavrov's intention given the context of the interview (with the Western press, so read by readers not incredibly familiar with the internal politics of Ukraine). But it's common to title the questions here on Skeptics based on the exact claim, even it is somewhat misleading.
    – Fizz
    Jun 29 at 14:02

1 Answer 1

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Is it true that Zelenskyy said that, or anything along those lines, prior to the invasion in February 2022?

It seems the answer is yes, though what I found is from August 2021 and has a bit more nuance in context. (Did he say it again a month later? Maybe.) Here's the translation that's closest, from TASS:

"I think that if you live on the Donbass territory today, which is temporarily occupied, and you think that ‘our cause is right, we need to be with Russia, we are Russian,’ then it is a big mistake to remain living in Donbass, it will never become Russian territory. Never. It doesn’t matter for how long it has been occupied, it’s like that wall that used to be in Germany," he said. In relation to that, the head of state asserted that "for the sake of your children and grandchildren it is already time to go find a place for yourself in the Russian Federation." According to him, "there won’t be a civilization without Ukraine" on the Donbass territory.

Highlights of the same speech can be found on Zelenskyy's Official website:

If a person living in the occupied territory of Ukraine considers Russia the homeland, then, according to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, it is better for this person to leave Donbas now.

"It will never be a Russian territory. No matter how long it is occupied. In any case, people, history will seize the moment, and this wall will collapse… You love Russia, you think that you have been in Ukraine all your life and felt that it is Russia, then in the name of your children and grandchildren you have to go and look for a place in Russia. This is the right way. Because without Ukraine there will be no civilization in this territory. [...] Donbas in the occupied, cut off type will not grow anywhere. Therefore, there’ll be no happiness here for these people," the President stressed.

The same article is available in Ukrainian and the original Russian. It seems to be also available on YouTube (again, in Russian): Volodymyr Zelenskyy about Crimea and Donbas. Big interview on the TV channel "Dom" (Владимир Зеленский – о Крыме и Донбассе. Большое интервью телеканалу "Дом"). The relevant part seems to happen around 41:00.

The key difference is that Zelenskyy is suggesting those who are pro-occupation should leave.

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    Essentially, what he is saying is that, if you like living in occupied Donbass, be aware that it will not be occupied forever. Jun 27 at 8:36
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    In the Russian language, there are different words for the Russian ethnicity or citizenship (российский and русский). I don't know if such a distinction exists in Ukrainian or word Zelenskyy used, but there is a big difference between "we need to be with Russia" and "we are Russian", and to me saying that people who want to live in Russian territory should leave for Russia does not mean the same as saying that people who feel Russian should leave for Russia. If this is the source of Lavrovs claim, then IMO the answer is rather no.
    – gerrit
    Jun 27 at 8:41
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    He is not talking about people that feel Russian (Lavrov's claim), but people that feel Ukraine is Russia. The sentiment being addressed is separatism, not ethnical or cultural identity. I know Ukrainian and checked both translation and original.
    – Rarst
    Jun 27 at 16:44
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    @Rarst What about the first paragraph from TASS that I quoted? He seems to be talking about people who have lived in Ukraine their whole lives who identify as Russian because they believe it should be Russia. (Ukrainian citizens, not Russian.) The problem with the second quote is that it has less of the speech. I found a YouTube video with the whole thing if that helps clear things up. (As a person who needs Google Translate to understand Ukrainian, that's probably as far as I can get.)
    – Laurel
    Jun 27 at 17:15
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    @Laurel I watched the relevant part (at 40 minutes mark), the interview is in Russian (which I also understand) and both statements (as covered by TASS and the official site) are present in it. They are also preceded by him saying "this is not about chasing anyone out", which is exactly how Lavrov tries to frame it. Obviously this is extremely nuanced topic and his words can be twisted many ways. I stand by my personal understanding that he is primarily addressing separatism sentiment of people who see specifically Donbass occupation as desirable and permanent.
    – Rarst
    Jun 27 at 17:45

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