“We are with you, be with us” – Zelensky echoes ’68 quote in speech to Czech Parliament

Volodymyr Zelensky in a speech to the Czech Parliament

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky called for his country to receive EU candidate status and for a seventh EU package of sanctions against Russia in a speech to the Czech Parliament on Wednesday. He repeatedly echoed the famous phrase “we are with you, be with us” that was broadcast on Czechoslovak Radio during the Soviet-led invasion in 1968. The appeal for more European support comes weeks ahead of Czechia assuming the presidency of the EU Council.

In his address to both chambers of the Czech Parliament, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky chose to repeatedly quote the famous line “we are with you, be with us,” words that were uttered by one of the presenters on Czechoslovak Radio during the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968.

Refugees | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

Thanking the Czech Republic for its “generous” support of Ukraine thus far, both in terms of aid and in taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, Zelensky said that Russia’s aggression will not stop with Ukraine. He said that a defeat of his country would only lead to the Kremlin’s influence spreading across the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe.

“The ‘fateful eights’, as they are known in Czech history, 1938, 1948 and 1968, serve as a reminder to everyone who would still want to make peace with this aggressor at the detriment of preserving European values and weakening Europe itself.”

Illustrative photo: Jernej Furman,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

Speaking just weeks ahead of the Czech Republic’s upcoming six-month presidency of the European Council, President Zelensky appealed to Prague for support in getting EU leaders to approve a seventh package of sanctions against Russia. He also asked for help in securing EU candidate status for Ukraine.

“Russia’s chief ideological weapon, namely the assertion that Europe is unable to unite, needs to be knocked out of its hands. Granting Ukraine EU candidate status would prove that the European community is real and that its values do work and are not just empty words in a few documents.”

Illustrative photo: Dusan Cvetanovic,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

Ukraine’s leader also spoke in connection to the Czech Republic’s plans to play an active role in ensuring that the EU helps in rebuilding Ukraine after the war.

“I believe that the Czech Republic will be one of the leaders in contributing to the economic and infrastructural rebuilding of Ukraine. It will also be a good opportunity for Europe to show its technological, institutional and creative strength. Furthermore, we need to ensure that Ukraine’s national recovery plan and Europe’s recovery plan are fully synchronised.

“I also ask you to take part in rebuilding Ukraine on a national level as well, for example by assuming patronage over one of the regions or cities that have been impacted by Russia’s aggression.”

Petr Fiala | Photo: Office of Czech Government

President Zelensky’s adress was preceded by speeches from the speakers of both chambers of the Czech Parliament, as well as by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who said that Ukraine has been systematically undermined by Russia for years and that the Kremlin’s invasion of the country has already cost two Czech lives (an independent aid worker and a volunteer in Ukraine’s armed forces).

“We have two concrete aims in this respect during our upcoming EU presidency. The first is to award Ukraine EU candidate status as soon as possible, further develop its association agreement and integrate the country further into the politics of the European Union. The second is to support the hardest sanctions against Russia.”

Humanitarian aid to Ukraine | Photo: Martin Dorazín,  Czech Radio

In proportion to its size, the Czech Republic has been a major donor of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the country was invaded by Russia on February 24. This support has not only come from the state but also from the general public whose donations have breached previous records.

Close to 400,000 Ukrainian refugees have received support in Czechia since the conflict started, according to the country’s Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský.

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