Zelensky’s chief of staff: We Ukrainians don’t believe in words, we believe in actions

Andriy Yermak and Josef Pazderka

Andriy Yermak, known as Volodymyr Zelensky’s right-hand man, is the Ukrainian’s president’s chief of staff and liaison officer on key issues. He negotiates with the Russians on prisoners of war or with the Americans on key arms supplies. Andriy Yermak recently accompanied President Zelensky to Prague and on that occasion, he gave an interview to Czech Radio’s Josef Pazderka.

Mr. Yermak, it’s a great pleasure to speak to you here in Prague. President Zelensky always says that he leaves Ukraine only in case of an emergency, in case of delivering a very urgent message. So what’s the message that he is bringing to the Czech Republic?

“Of course the circumstances in my country are very tragic at the moment, but for us it was very important to come to the Czech Republic, because it is one of the biggest supporters of Ukraine.

“We are sure that we will win and it will be our common victory, because you are not just our partners, you are real friends.”

“It was very important for our president to express his personal thanks to your people, to your president, to your prime minister and to your parliament, because you have really done a lot since the very first day of the invasion.

“It’s been 500 days since we have been fighting for our common values, such as freedom, independence and democracy. So it was very important for us to come.

“We are sure that we will win and I am sure that it will be our common victory, because you are not just our partners, you are real friends.”

Andriy Yermak | Photo: Czech Radio

You have come to Prague just days before the NATO summit in Vilnius. Does it have a connection? Is there anything you would like to ask the Czech politicians, the Czech prime minister, the Czech president? Do you want them to express their support before the summit?

“First of all, we are aware of the Czech Republic’s position. The Czech Republic has been principally supporting Ukraine in our aspirations to become members of the European Union and NATO.

“Of course we still hope that at the summit in Vilnius Ukraine will receive a strong signal concerning our future. After all, as President Zelensky said at the meeting with his Czech counterpart, about 93 percent of the Ukrainian population currently support Ukraine’s accession to NATO.

“We will of course continue to fight and we hope that we have shown the world during those 500 days that we are not just able to defend our country, but also to liberate it. We have also destroyed the myth about the world’s second strongest army and we have showed that it is possible to be truly independent.”

As we know, Prague is also a big arms exporter. Is there any particular request on your side from the Czech exporters and arms producers, for any type of arms that you need for your counter offensive?

“Once again, I would like to say that we very much appreciate the support we are receiving from the Czech Republic. The new military package is a very strong tool and it is very important for us.

“Everything we have received goes to our soldiers, to our heroes, who continue to show some success every day, even if it’s small, as they continue to liberate our territories.

“We have extremely open relationships on the military and intelligence levels. The president’s office has held briefings every month with our partners, including the Czech Republic, informing them about the current situation from the battlefield.

Andriy Yermak | Photo: Czech Radio

“Once again we want to send a strong message that we are not talking just about war, but we are talking about the future. We are talking about our cooperation in the energy and transport sectors. There has been a long history of cooperation between our companies, and between our countries.

“Once again, this is a historical moment and I am absolutely sure that our friendship and partnership will continue into the future and it is great that our talks have already started.”

There has been information that Ukraine and Czechia are also discussing common production of ammunition. Is that correct? Is that something that is happening?

“Yes, I can say that we are having consultations and negotiations and we are looking into this perspective. It would be great if our companies in privates sectors, with the support of the state of course, will create joint ventures and common enterprises.

“You know, the biggest guarantee of our security is NATO membership. But I think that our cooperation on different levels starting in the military intelligence and in the industries, is one of the strongest elements of our future security.”

President Zelensky said that 2023 is the year of Ukrainian victory but he also admitted that the counteroffensive that started in late spring is going slower than he expected. Do you still think that by the end of 2023 Ukraine will be able to declare victory?

“It is difficult to say. Nobody can give you 100 percent guarantees. Of course we are doing our best and we are sure that we will win. But of course for our president as well as for our partners, every single life matters. Our priority is for our people and for our country to survive.

“And when this war ends, we want to get back all our territories within internationally recognized borders, we want all our people to come back, and we want to receive compensation for the damages caused by the Russian invaders. But I can say in general the counter offensive is going according to plan.

“[The pace at which we are going] It’s not because our people are not motivated. It's not because our plans are not working. It's because first of all, many kilometres of our lands are mined. And second, we still need more ammunition and more weapons.”

But you and the president are still convinced that by the end of the year you can declare victory. Is that right?

“I can't say that we will declare it, but it is our goal. If it would be possible to end this war tomorrow, Ukrainians would be the happiest people in the world.

“Trust me, when there is a war and your life is at stake, you count the time not in days, or in hours, but in minutes. And that’s what we are living in, so let’s see.

“But I hope that if this unity continues and is as strong as today, many countries from the global south will open their eyes and clearly understand that Ukraine didn’t want any Russian land and we didn’t start this war. We are the victims and Russia is the aggressor and a terrorist state.”

Andriy Yermak and Josef Pazderka | Photo: Czech Radio

We had a large international conference Media in Ukraine here in Prague in late June and there was a strange tendency among some of the Ukrainian guests to boycott Russian opposition leaders such as Zhanna Nemtsova. They said they didn’t want to be on the same stage with them. Are the Russian opposition leaders your allies or is it more complicated?

“First of all, it is difficult to answer this question because I don’t have enough information about the event, but I can tell you what my personal position is.

“What happened in Ukraine – and it started already in 2014, goes back to the times of the Second World War. There are many similarities, such as concentration camps, unbelievable crimes against children, against women, against all the people. This is a terrorist attack against civilians. That’s why we have a new term “Russism”.

“This is a terrorist attack against civilians. That’s why we have a new term ‘Russism’.”

“I remember when we visited Bucha with President Zelensky, it looked like a scene from a documentary film about the Second World, but was a reality.

“And unfortunately, all the Russians are guilty. The Russian soldiers who killed, raped and tortured. The commanders who gave the orders, and, of course, all the people in the Kremlin headed by Putin. But also the society that keeps silent and creates an opportunity for the rise of a new generation of killers.

“And to say that there is an opposition? Many of these people were in power or were connected to power. Of course it is good that they are now doing something against the regime, but we Ukrainians, we don’t believe in words, we believe in actions.”

Authors: Josef Pazderka , Ruth Fraňková
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