Six Key Things Zelensky Said in Russian Interview Banned by Kremlin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday gave his first major interview to Russian journalists since Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin invaded his country.

Zelensky's 90-minute-long interview over Zoom with four prominent journalists from Russia was almost immediately banned by the Kremlin's telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor.

Russian media outlets must "refrain from publishing this interview," a government statement said. It comes as part of a wider crackdown on national media and independent news outlets for their reporting on the invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24.

The Russian parliament passed a law that criminalizes the distribution of "fake news" about Russia's military. Those convicted face up to 15 years in jail. Authorities have prohibited media from calling Putin's invasion a "war"—state-run media outlets adopt the term "special military operation."

'Appropriate Response' Will Be Taken

"The media outlets conducting the interviews will be subject to scrutiny to determine the extent of responsibility and the appropriate response to be taken," the statement read.

The journalists who conducted the interview were Ivan Kolpakov, the editor of Latvia-based Russian-language news website Meduza; Vladimir Solovyov, a reporter for Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant, freelance Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar; and Tikhon Dzyadko, the editor of independent television channel TV Rain, which temporarily suspended its operations on March 3 following pressure over its coverage of the Ukraine invasion.

In his interview, the Ukrainian president described in detail the devastating effects of Putin's offensive.

Here are six key takeaways from Zelensky's interview:

1. Russia Is 'Stealing' Ukrainian Children, Zelensky Claims

Zelensky accused the Kremlin of removing at least 2,000 children from the hard hit, besieged city of Mariupol by force, and taking them to Russia.

"Their exact whereabouts are unknown," he said.

"According to our data, more than 2,000 children have been taken. We do not know the exact location of these children. Some are with parents, some without. Anyway, this is a catastrophe. It's scary," Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian leader said that he previously told his Russian counterparts that negations would not take place "if they steal children."

"Nothing will happen. We won't agree on anything with them," he said.

Newsweek has been unable to independently verify the claims.

Mariupol City Council on Thursday said 15,000 local residents had fallen under "illegal deportation" orders and that as many as 6,000 had already been forcibly taken to Russia.

Zelensky also suggested that Putin's invasion of Ukraine is much worse than a war.

"This is not simply a war, this is much worse," Zelensky said. "A global, historical, cultural split has happened over this month."

He said he is unsure if relations between the two countries will ever be the same again.

2. Mariupol Is a 'Humanitarian Catastrophe'

"The reality is this. The city is blocked by the Russian military—all entrances and exits from the city of Mariupol are blocked. The port is mined," Zelensky said.

"There is a humanitarian catastrophe inside the city because it is impossible to go there with food, medicine and water," he explained.

The besieged city of Mariupol is located on the Sea of Azov, which is connected to the Black Sea. Former CIA director David Petraeus said on Sunday that the city appears to be poised to fall to Russian forces.

"The Russian military is shelling humanitarian convoys. They kill drivers. There is constant shelling," said Zelensky, highlighting the "forceful removal of people."

More than 90 percent of buildings in the city of half a million people have been burned and destroyed, he noted.

"Corpses lie in the city on the roads, on the sidewalks. Corpses are just lying around—no one removes them—Russian soldiers and citizens of Ukraine."

3. Zelensky Offers Putin Route Out of Ukraine War

When pressed on his military strategy moving forward, and on how he envisions a military victory for Ukraine, Zelensky acknowledged that "it is impossible to force Russia to completely liberate the territory."

"It will lead to World War III. I understand everything perfectly and am aware of [this]," he said.

"That's why I say: it's a compromise. Return to where it all began, and there we will try to solve the issue of Donbas, the complex issue of Donbas.

Donbas contains the two separatist republics of Ukraine, the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics.

General Sergey Rudskoy, the head of the main operational directorate of the Russian General Staff, on Friday said that Russia's main goal now is to "liberate" the east—particularly the Donbas region.

"To minimize the number of victims, to reduce the timing of this war. To withdraw the troops of the Russian Federation, to compromise territories—and all that happened up until February 24, before the attack," Zelensky said, elaborating on his priorities.

4. Russia Forged Documents on Planned attack on Donbas

Zelensky accused the Russian government of forging documents that purportedly showed Ukraine's armed forces planned a pre-emptive strike on Donbas.

Russia's defense ministry on March 9 published documents it claims shows that Ukraine was planning a military offensive against the region in March 2022.

The ministry released the documents, saying they were allegedly dated January 22 and signed by National Guard of Ukraine Commander Col.-Gen. Nikolai Balan.

Hitting back against the allegations, Zelensky said: "It's some kind of fake document."

"There were no plans. Starting in 2019, again, both to President Putin and then through all these different channels you talked about today... I said that we are not going to take our territories by military means. I want to negotiate with you," he explained. "I was looking for different options. Believe me."

"I don't know what kind of document it is. It's hard for me to say at all. All documents that indicate the attack of [Ukraine] on Donbas is 100 percent fake."

5. Ukraine Won't Discuss 'De-militarization' and 'De-Nazification'

Ukraine will not discuss two of Putin's demands—the de-militarization and "de-Nazification" of Ukraine.

"We don't discuss it at all. I said that our group... We won't sit down at the table at all if we talk about some kind of 'de-militarization' or some kind of 'de-Nazification.' For me, these are absolutely incomprehensible things," Zelensky said.

"The Russian side at the first meeting in Belarus..our parties said that there can be no phrases about "de-militarization" and "de-Nazification"—we are not interested in these points at all."

In announcing his "special military operation" in Ukraine, Putin repeated a number of unsubstantiated claims, including that the Ukrainian government was responsible for eight years of abuse and genocide. He said that the goal of his offensive was the "de-Nazification" and "de-militarization" of Ukraine.

6. Zelensky Outlines Potential Deal

A potential deal between Russia and Ukraine could include "security guarantees and neutrality, the non-nuclear status of our state," Zelensky said.

"We are ready to go for this," he added.

Putin has asked for reassurance that Ukraine will not seek membership of the military and political alliance NATO. It was founded in 1949 in response to the actions of the Soviet Union.

Russia and Ukraine are set to hold talks in Istanbul this week. Zelensky has said that peace and the restoration of normal life are the country's "obvious" goals.

Newsweek has contacted Russia's ministry of foreign affairs for comment.

Ukraine-Russia conflict
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Kyiv on March 3, 2022. Zelensky on Sunday gave his first major interview to Russian journalists since his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin invaded his country. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images