Describing in vivid terms the devastation that invading Russian troops have left in his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a Yale SOM event on October 28 that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a threat to democracies worldwide.
“Russia is fighting against freedom, destroying everything Ukrainian and Ukrainians… They don’t believe they can subjugate Ukraine in any other way,” Zelenskyy told a packed Zhang Auditorium. “It is important for the whole world to see that Russia loses.”
Zelenskyy appeared via a live video feed from Kyiv, Ukraine. Senior Associate Dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management, hosted the discussion, which included a question-and-answer session with students and other audience members, who greeted Zelenskyy with a standing ovation. The event was presented by Yale SOM Chief Executive Leadership Institute, which was founded and is led by Sonnenfeld.
Zelenskyy thanked the U.S. government and American businesses and other institutions—including Yale—for their support. He predicted an end to the war soon but cautioned that peace is a very complex undertaking, dependent largely on the will of the Russian people and increased international support for Ukraine.
“It’s a complex thing, because it depends on multiple factors,” he said. “It also very much depends on our partners.”
Zelenskyy added that he refuses to negotiate with Putin while Russian troops remain in Ukraine.
“They have their hands in blood, and it will be really a challenge to clean those hands,” Zelenskyy said. “They have children’s blood on their hands.”
Yale President Peter Salovey; Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History; and CNBC Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche joined Sonnenfeld in Zhang Auditorium; U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Lindsey Graham joined the discussion virtually. CNBC provided live coverage of the event.
Salovey introduced Zelenskyy, noting that the Ukraine is facing a critical juncture as the war passes the eighth-month mark.
“I would like to reaffirm Yale’s steadfast support for members of our Ukrainian community and those Yale students and scholars from elsewhere in the region,” Salovey said. “We are compelled by our common sense of humanity to reject Putin’s violence in the strongest terms. We stand for peace. We grieve for the lives lost, and we will continue to support individual students in any capacity we can as our scholars also help policymakers chart a path toward peace.”
Sonnenfeld pointed out some of Yale’s efforts to assist the Ukrainian people, including the influential “Russia list,” an effort by Sonnenfeld and a team of student volunteers to track businesses suspending their business in Russia. In June, at the Yale CEO Summit, the Chief Executive Leadership Institute awarded Zelenskyy the Legend in Leadership Award.
Yale students asked Zelenskyy about the source of the Ukrainian people’s strength; how to convince other nations to make sacrifices on Ukraine’s behalf; China’s non-support of Ukraine; and how a reconstruction of Ukraine may proceed, among other questions.
Senator Graham predicted “a robust package of military and economic assistance” to Ukraine and a designation for Russia as terrorist state soon, while Blumenthal emphasized that Putin will next threaten NATO if Russia is successful in Ukraine.
A Ukrainian student currently at Yale asked about the kind of effort that will be needed to rebuild and protect Ukraine after the war. Zelenskyy, who hails from the same region of Ukraine as the student, replied that a broad approach taking security, education, and business into account is necessary to restart the society.
“We need to do everything to see that you and others like you will gladly come back and rediscover Ukraine.”