President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the Russian “propaganda frame” in an address which was livestreamed to Irish universities this afternoon.
Appearing via video link to Dublin City University (DCU), Zelenskyy began by addressing recent news that 52 Irish politicians have been sanctioned by Russia, labelling the sanctions as part of Russia’s “propaganda frame”.
Zelenskyy also accused Russia of hypocrisy in its commitments at the G20 Bali summit this week.
He contrasted G20 commitments, including from Russia, to “create energy and market stability” with Russia’s bombing of power plants and gas facilities in Ukraine.
He also pointed to clauses on environmental protection and rights to education, saying that Russia has destroyed almost 3 million hectares of forest in Ukraine and shelled 2,790 educational institutions, completely destroying over 300.
Zelenskyy spoke about the impact of the Russian invasion labelling Russia “the largest terrorist state in history” and “Russis drowns in its own lies”.
He said sanctions on Russia should be “maintained” and strengthened”. “International pressure on Russia should not stop for a single day.”
He spoke about the impact of the war on Ukrainian Higher Education saying that 2,719 education institutions have been shelled during the conflict while 323 have been destroyed.
He concluded the first part of his address by encouraging people to support Ukraine and thanking Irealnd for the “attention” and support”.
In the Q&A portion of President Zelenskyy’s address he was first asked about the impact of the Russian invasion on Ukrainian Higher Education. He said the answer “would be difficult” because “the consequences of war are always difficult”.
He praised students’ response to the conflict saying “this is the age of courage”. He noted the use of social media by young people during the conflict and condemned the lack of access to education during the war.
He also noted Ukraine’s high level of access to online education. He highlighted that even though the “walls can be rebuilt”, there are “graver consequences” in the “lives that may have been lost”.
Zelenskyy also remains hopeful that the war will end and Ukraine “will restore [it’s] territorial integrity”.
Answering a question posed by a student, Zelenskyy agreed that social media is “absolutely” a new frontier of war.
He expressed the difficulty of combating misinformation during war, saying that “for the truth to be spread is difficult”, when Russia’s international influence is greater than Ukraine’s.
Zelenskyy said that Ukrainians have been able to combat Russian narratives by sharing information and videos online: “Russia has more weapons on the battlefield but in the informational domain we are beating them.”
The Ukrainian president expressed the belief that Russia has been preparing their own society for an invasion of Ukraine “for many years”.
“They were preparing their own society for their tyranny, for this idea of having Ukraine occupied, of destroying the Ukrainian identity,” he said.
“Occupation starts with occupying the brains of their own society”
Zelenskyy pointed out that this began in 2014 with the invasion of the Crimean peninsula, and that “gradually” Russia increased its influence and improved its strategic position.
Zelenskyy’s address was preceded by an address from Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science Simon Harris, who called the event a “momentous occasion.
Harris thanked the Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland Larysa Gerasko, who initiated Zelenskyy’s address during the summer.
He said that Ireland has been “extremely united” since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, calling the Russian invasion “illegal, immoral and unjustified”.
Harris said: “While this country is militarily neutral, we are never ever neutral when it comes to moral and political issues.”
He highlighted the importance of facilitating access to higher education for Ukrainian students, saying that it is “essential for the future of Ukraine”.
“We cannot allow Putin to deprive the next generation of Ukrainian leaders of an education. We want to make sure that that generation has the capacity to build back Ukraine.”
Over 350 Ukrainian students completed the National Multi-Subject Test (NMT), the Ukrainian equivalent of the Leaving Certificate during the summer, with sessions hosted in Trinity and DCU.
Harris concluded by emphasising that Ireland is “sending a signal that violence brutality and war will not be tolerated, and that democracy, freedom, will always win out”.
Also preceding Zelenskyy’s address, President of DCU Daire Keogh stressed the common historical experiences of Ukraine and Ireland: “We have both known famine. We have both known the consequences and impact of prolonged occupation by a more powerful neighbour.”
He thanked the Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland for initiating this address and reaffirmed DCU’s Initiated “unequivocal condemnation” of Russia invasion of Ukraine. He sent “a particular message of solidarity” to Ukraine’s universities and noted “significant to note” that Ireland’s Higher Education sector has “done its bit”.
He spoke on how Higher Education is “about developing the whole person” and “sharing and promoting our vision for a better world”.
He concluded by thanking those in attendance and stating that “freedom must be had at all hazards”.
Speaking to media after the event Harris thanked DCU, the ambassador and the organisers. He condemned Russia and its “propaganda and disinformation and misinformation”.
He discussed the recent sanctions on Irish politicians by Russia noting that to his knowledge, he is not on the list. He said he believes this list is a “trap from Russian propaganda and distractions. The reality of the situation is this is a tactic of war by Russia.”
“The Irish government’s position in terms of keeping diplomatic links open remains the Irish government’s position. But this thing about lists and all this. This is a hybrid war game from a country that is pursuing an illegal, despicable, brutal war.”
“What matters is that Putin has invaded a sovereign European country. That’s what matters. What matters is that 63,000 People have been run out of their country to these shores.”
Harris was also asked specifically about Ireland’s response to the ongoing conflict. He noted Ireland’s participation in all sanctions against Russia to date. “I know, European foreign ministers, European heads of government, continue to keep all of these things under review and will continue to absolutely do.”
“I think one of the things that surprises the Putin regime and I think one of the things we can be really proud of as Europeans is the level of unity that has been in place across the European Union when it comes to sanctions but also unity when it comes to opening up our education system.”
Harris was also asked about the role of social media misinformation and disinformation in the ongoing conflict. He noted the “big challenge in terms of being able to access factual information. I’d certainly call on tech companies to do all that they possibly can.”
Trinity was one of a number of colleges to provide accommodation to Ukrainian refugees over the summer, for four weeks from May to June.