“Today I will start with long-awaited words, which I wish to announce with pride,” he said.
“Finally,” he continued. “Ukraine is United … This is our victory.”
“Now is an important moment,” Zelensky said. “The fate of our country is being decided.”
‘This gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis’
Putin framed the “military operation” as a necessary action after the United States and its allies crossed Russia’s “red lines” by expanding NATO eastward.
Zelensky on Friday again called for Putin to hold direct talks.
“There is fighting all over Ukraine now. Let’s sit down at the negotiation table to stop the people’s deaths,” he said in Russian.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Russia was ready to take part in talks in Minsk, according to reporting by Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti. An adviser to Zelensky told CNN that Kyiv is considering the proposal.
Ukraine’s democratically elected government remains intact, but Putin has made it clear this week that he does not see Ukraine as a legitimate sovereign state. On Friday he called on Ukrainians to overthrow Zelensky themselves.
“Take power into your own hands,” Putin said. “It looks like it will be easier for us to come to an agreement (with you) than with this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis that has settled in Kyiv and taken hostage the entire Ukrainian people.”
Covid-19 then tore through the country. Zelensky’s campaign promises, such as ending the war in eastern Ukraine and stamping out corruption, remain unfilled.
But the danger Zelensky faces is no longer just political.
US officials warned lawmakers that Russian forces who entered Ukraine through Belarus were about 20 miles away from Kyiv, sources told CNN.
“They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he said.
CNN’s Anna Chernova, Kara Fox, Helen Regan and Nathan Hodge contributed to this report.