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Volodymyr Zelensky Pays Tribute to ‘Freedom Fighters’ at Person of the Year Reception

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid tribute to the freedom fighters of his country—and around the world—Thursday night at TIME’s 2022 Person of the Year reception in New York City.

After nearly 10 months of brutal conflict following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky has emerged as one of the most notable world leaders in his efforts to protect Ukraine’s independence. He is TIME’s 2022 Person of the Year.

Zelensky, appearing in a video message of the event, thanked the bravery of doctors, farmers, journalists, and human rights lawyers—as well as ordinary people who stepped up to help the war effort. He also thanked those who supported Ukraine in its fight for freedom.

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“It is an honor for me to represent the struggle of Ukrainians and the spirit of Ukraine, the spirit of freedom that echoes in the souls of so many people around the world,” Zelensky said. “This is the free world spirit, and let’s do everything for our spirit to win.”

He added that the “stories of heroes who are fighting for independence are also your stories.”

The Ukranian president made a bold choice earlier this year when he decided to stay in Kyiv as tensions with Russia worsened and fight back with an information war that has kept Ukraine at the forefront of international news. “You have already seen the spirit of Ukraine on the covers of TIME Magazine,” Zelensky said. That spirit “united the world this year with the colors of the Ukrainian national flag and our people’s achievements,” he said.

Zelensky thanked everyone who stood in solidarity with Ukraine and who has helped keep the movement alive. “Slava Ukraini,” he said, or “Glory to Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian flag, a blue and yellow fixture that’s popped up all over the world since Russia’s invasion, adorned TIME’s Person of the Year cover featuring Zelensky.

“Whether the battle for Ukraine fills one with hope or with fear, Volodymyr Zelensky galvanized the world in a way we haven’t seen in decades,” TIME Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal said in his explanation for TIME’s Person of the Year choice.

Felsenthal saluted other noteworthy people at the reception: Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya; actor Liev Schreiber who organized fundraising to help Ukrainians after the war broke out, and TIME senior correspondent Simon Shuster, who has reported extensively from Ukraine and followed Zelensky closely.

Read the full text of Zelensky’s video message:

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me to represent the struggle of Ukrainians and the spirit of Ukraine—the spirit of freedom that echoes in the souls of so many people around the world. Stories of heroes who are fighting for independence are also your stories.

Ordinary men and women who became brave hearts, when they joined the defense forces to defend freedom—different generations of different nations knew this spirit.

The doctors who save the wounded under bombs, during blackouts or in occupation, no matter what it takes. It is about humaneness that we all value so dearly.

Farmers who work the land under the roaring guns. It is about the natural desire to live and take care of one’s families and communities.

Journalists who spread the truth. It is in the history of how to resist tyrants. The history which began even before the word “journalism” appeared. This is what inspires across all continents, freedom fighters who may possess nothing but courage to defeat those with armored vehicles and repression. When freedom wins, and tyranny collapses, people are smiling the same way all over the globe.

Lawyers who do not yet see that upcoming victory in war, but are already working to ensure that war criminals are brought to justice. This is the Nuremberg Trials’ story with many other just verdicts that were delivered to those who believed in their impunity.

This is the spirit.

You have already seen the spirit of Ukraine on the covers of TIME Magazine, not on each one, but on many. There were not Ukrainians on the covers before, but there were courage, striving for freedom, solidarity, creativity, and dedication—well known to mankind from a long time ago, and which united the world this year with the colors of the Ukrainian national flag and our people’s achievements.

This is the free world spirit. And let’s do everything for our spirit to win. I thank you for your attention. Thank you for supporting Ukraine. Slava Ukraini.

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