Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo:AFP
Washington: President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of committing genocide and attempting to eliminate the "whole nation" of Ukraine, a day after the discovery of mass graves and apparently executed civilians near Kyiv.
"This is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and the people," Zelensky told the CBS program Face the Nation, according to a transcript provided by the network on Sunday.
"We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities," Zelensky said amid a chorus of international outrage over the behavior of Russian troops in Ukraine.
Three days after the invasion started on February 24, Ukraine filed a complaint at the International Court of Justice in The Hague accusing Russia of "planning acts of genocide."
In the interview aired on Sunday -- after footage aired around the world of civilian bodies littering the streets of the town of Bucha near Kyiv, and a Ukrainian official said 280 bodies were buried in a mass grave there -- Zelensky seemed to go further.
"We are citizens of Ukraine and we don't want to be subdued to the policy of Russian Federation. This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated," Zelensky said, according to the CBS transcript.
"And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So this is the torture of the whole nation," he added.
At the same time, Zelensky stressed he had no option but to put his personal feelings of anger and revulsion aside and pursue an eventual peace dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"It's difficult to say how, after all what has been done, we can have any kind of negotiations with Russia. That's on the personal level, but as a president I have to do it," he said
However any negotiations would be conditional on a ceasefire.
"I can't even have a meeting when the shelling is going on. So first the ceasefire. Then we can have a meeting with the Russian president," said Zelensky.
"At a point in time when the end of the war will come, and after we discuss the security guarantees together and the neutral non bloc status but preserving our sovereignty, a strong army," the president said.
Ukraine has offered to accept becoming neutral if it receives adequate security guarantees from Western nations, abandoning aspirations to join NATO.
On Sunday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington will continue supporting Ukraine, but stopped short of offering security guarantees.
Zelensky said his country was grateful for US support, but as for guarantees, "we have not received them yet from anyone."
"I'm not, as a president, satisfied with just assurance," he said.
He said he could not fathom how to hold those responsible for the civilian killings accountable.
"I don't know what law or what imprisonment term would be adequate for this. As the father of two children and as a president, I think that these people, if they are put behind the bars, this is one too little for what they have done."
Zelensky also called for a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine "to their borders that existed prior to the 24th of February, at least."
"This would make us to -- start discussing other questions about the de-occupation, about how do we live on after this," he added.