Sean Penn Describes Meeting Zelensky Day Before Ukraine Invasion

Sean Penn came face to face with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time the day before the Russian invasion.

Many were shocked when the Ukrainian government announced on February 24 that Penn was in the country filming a documentary. The Oscar-nominated actor appeared on both MSNBC and Fox News on Tuesday night to share his first-hand experiences of the conflict.

Penn is currently creating the documentary about Ukraine with VICE Studios, and he revealed that went back to the country to continue his work last week, despite initially escaping on foot via the Polish border.

While appearing on Hannity, Penn revealed he had previously spoken with Zelensky on Zoom, but said they met in the flesh on a momentous day. "I met him face to face for the first time the day before the invasion, and then spent time with him, which we document in the film, during the invasion, on the day of the invasion," Penn said.

Describing the measure of the man, he said: "I don't know that there's a person on earth who could know that they were born for such a day that they could rise to it. In him, I saw something that I've never seen before in my lifetime."

Penn told host Sean Hannity how inspired he was not just by Zelensky, but by Ukrainian people generally who he met during his time in the country.

Setting the scene for their meeting, Penn implied that war was looming over Kyiv when he met with the Ukrainian president.

"[We] met with President Zelensky at midday. We knew that there were rockets that were targeting areas just outside of Kyiv. There were a lot of air raid sirens."

Penn continued: "When we came out of where we met with him, there was a blackout in the city because of concerns about rockets. We were encouraged not to use our automobile to drive back because the lights would could draw a rocket fire. We walked."

Revealing his personal timeline in Ukraine, Penn said he first arrived to shoot his documentary in November when he spent time in Mariupol. He then left and arrived a week before the invasion in February, before meeting Zelensky on February 23.

He tweeted on February 28 that he and his two colleagues had abandoned their car and left Ukraine on foot to cross the Polish border. He returned to Ukraine in March and revealed on Twitter and Instagram that he was in the city of Lviv "strategizing with local governance."

Penn also revealed that he spoke to the Kyiv mayor, former World Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko in November. At that time Klitschko was planning to run against Zelensky in the next presidential election and could have won, according to Penn. Since the invasion, Zelensky's actions have meant Klitschko has "enlisted" in Zelensky as the commander in chief.

"So it tells you everything," Penn said. "This is leadership. We talk about leadership, we talked to leaders, no one on the planet has been tested in leadership like this one human being."

Penn and Hannity had a lengthy conversation focused on the issues in Ukraine, but the actor also made sure to voice his opinion on the network.

He said at the start and the end of the interview that he "doesn't trust" Hannity, but that even despite that, they've got to "get on with life."

Sean Penn and President Zelensky
Sean Penn met with President Zelensky on the day before Russia invaded on February 24, 2022. Associated Press / Getty Images