Volodymyr Zelensky addresses U.S. universities on rebuilding Ukraine higher education

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May 16 (UPI) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to American university administrators, students and professors Monday to help his country’s higher education sector rebuild after the war with Russia.

Zelensky, addressing the Association of American Universities via video, urged students to choose to “be actors in this life,” not neutral bystanders, taking action and fighting for freedom and democracy.

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“It’s the same in life. You need help, but there is a crowd of people just watching,” Zelensky said. “There are some states that invest all of their might in protecting freedom, stopping the aggression and guaranteeing the rule of international law. That is the role chosen by the United States and I’m very grateful to you.”

The AAU said Zelensky’s administration hopes the leading research universities in the United States can help rebuild higher education in Ukraine.

Zelensky outlined his administration’s vision for bringing students and researchers back.

“We can’t lose the power of youth, the power and energy of young people without which we can have no future and we cannot create anything,” he said.

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Zelensky reflected on the Feb. 24 invasion and how he had been asked to surrender and even asked by allies if he wanted to flee the country as Russian troops approached the capital. Zelensky said those simply were not options for him and the country he leads.

“They really didn’t know who we are,” Zelensky said. “They didn’t know who I was. The lives of Ukrainians; we will never be victims again.”

Ukrainian forces were able to repel the Russian advance on its capital of Kyiv and are contesting Russian troops in the south and east.

The AAU livestreamed Zelensky’s speech. The organization included 63 U.S. universities. He is expected to address to Stanford University later this month as part of his outreach campaign to push for more assistance for Ukraine to keep the government running and to begin rebuilding.