President Zelensky brushed off praise for his wartime response: 'I'm not iconic, I think Ukraine is iconic'

President Zelensky brushed off praise for his wartime response: 'I'm not iconic, I think Ukraine is iconic'
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seen in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 28, 2022.Presidency of Ukraine / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the ongoing Russian assault with CNN and Reuters on Tuesday.
  • The leader dismissed global praise of his newfound status as a wartime leader.

It's been less than a week since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a former comedian and actor turned statesman — has quickly garnered global praise for his stalwart presence and defiant demeanor in the face of increasing danger.

The 44-year-old has refused to evacuate the capital city of Kyiv even as Russian forces continue to advance, delivering video updates and rousing speeches from an undisclosed, heavily guarded location near the city's center.

On Tuesday, Zelensky sat for an exclusive interview with CNN and Reuters from the bunker in Kyiv in which he is directing his country's military response.

The Ukrainian president discussed an array of topics, including the status of ceasefire talks with Russia, the possibility of a NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Russia, and the broad consequences to all of Europe should Ukraine fall.

But when asked by CNN about his journey from television performer to a global wartime leader, Zelensky brushed off praise.


"It's very serious. It's not a movie," he told the outlet. "I'm not iconic, I think Ukraine is iconic."

"Ukraine is the heart of Europe, and now I think Europe sees Ukraine is something special for this world," he added. "That's why [the] world can't lose this something special."

Earlier on Tuesday, Zelensky received a standing ovation after delivering an emotional speech to the European Parliament via video address.

CNN said the president was friendly but appeared exhausted. Video from the interview shows Zelensky unshaven, wearing a plain T-shirt and khaki pants. He told the outlets he hasn't seen his family in three days.

"I work and I sleep," Zelensky said, describing his daily routine.


But despite the chaos, the president maintained a strong front.

When Reuters asked how long Ukraine would hold out, Zelensky said: "We do not hold out, we fight, and our nation will fight to the end. This is our home, we are protecting our land, our homes. For the sake of our children's future."

The president lamented reports of children dying across the country.

"We have something to defend, we are defending our right to live. And what are [the Russians] doing here? They don't understand our people, our state, our philosophy," he told Reuters. "They don't know anything here, they were sent here to kill and to die. Therefore we are stronger on our own land, and we will be stronger."