Zelensky's Image at Home Takes a Rare Hit

Critics fault his rationale for not better warning citizens about a Russian invasion
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2022 9:38 AM CDT
Zelensky's Image at Home Takes a Rare Hit
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 25, 2022.   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

(Newser) – As part of a series of articles about the war in Ukraine, the Washington Post has one with an angle that may seem unusual to those who have followed the conflict from the US. It revolves around sometimes withering criticism of Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky—from fellow Ukrainians. While generally hailed as a heroic wartime leader at home and abroad, this particular criticism stems from what Zelensky did in the lead-up to the war, or more precisely, what he didn't do. In a separate interview with the Post earlier this week, Zelensky explained why he chose not to forcefully warn his citizens that an invasion was imminent. Doing so would have sown panic, he explained, leading to mass evacuations, emptied bank accounts, and an economic meltdown for the nation.

"If we had communicated that … then I would have been losing $7 billion a month since last October, and at the moment when the Russians did attack, they would have taken us in three days," Zelensky said. He added that the way things played out proved him right. "Some of our people left, but most of them stayed here; they fought for their homes. And as cynical as it may sound, those are the people who stopped everything." In the follow-up article, Zelensky is taking heat over the perception that he put the nation's economy ahead of the safety of his people. "Honestly, my hair stood on end when I read what [Zelensky] said about evacuation," wrote journalist Bohdan Butkevich on Facebook, voicing a typical sentiment.

It's "not a glitch, not a mistake, not an unfortunate misunderstanding, not a strategic miscalculation—it is a crime,” said Ukrainian author Kateryna Babkina. Zelensky's defenders are pointing out that all kinds of news stories were detailing Russian troop movements, and that the risk of an invasion wasn't exactly a secret. Still, the current criticism is unprecedented and represents "the first serious communication crisis" for Zelensky, says Sevgil Musaieva, editor of the Ukrainska Pravda news site. As for herself, Musaieva says she was "personally offended" by Zelensky's comments, though she added she would not have fled had he delivered a dire warning. (Read more Volodymyr Zelensky stories.)

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