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A year since Russia invaded, Zelenskyy says Ukraine needs the support of the world

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been a somber day in Ukraine. A year to the day after Russia invaded his country in the capital, Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters Ukraine has survived the worst year in its modern history, and he said it needs the continued support of the world, not just the West, to prevail in its war against Russia. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: In a rare press conference, Zelenskyy answered questions for more than two hours while hammering home one big theme - that he will keep making a case to support Ukraine to allies and skeptics alike. Here he is speaking through an interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) It's important that everyone should know that this is no ordinary war. We are fighting for all of you.

KAKISSIS: Responding to a question from NPR, Zelenskyy rejected skepticism by some U.S. officials who said Ukraine would not be able to push all Russian forces out of the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Zelenskyy said this would only happen if powerful weapons promised by the West did not come through quickly enough. He also said that this skepticism is not shared by President Biden or most of the American people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) I saw that American people, they support us, and there's another thing, believing in our victory. And this is what President Biden's visit was about.

KAKISSIS: And when a journalist pointed out that support for Ukraine is dropping in the U.S., Zelenskyy offered this warning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) If they do not change their opinion, if they do not understand us, if they do not support Ukraine, they will lose NATO. They will lose clout. They will lose the leadership position that they are enjoying in the world.

KAKISSIS: But the Ukrainian president also took lots of questions about countries with less friendly attitudes. Early in the press conference, he said he welcomed China's recent engagement on resolving the conflict. China issued what it called a position paper on the war today, and Zelenskyy said he also wants to travel to Latin America to meet face to face with leaders there who do not support Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) Russian Federation has made a large informational campaign on the territory of Latin American countries. We are interested in you learning the truth. We have shared values. We need to talk, really. We need to talk, and Ukraine has to talk to all the countries now.

KAKISSIS: Zelenskyy made very clear who he did not want to talk to - Ukrainians who have not stayed to defend and rebuild the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) All those who left on the 24 of February, all those who left Kyiv, all those who were supposed to fight for the country, all these people have disappointed me.

KAKISSIS: In a speech earlier today, Zelenskyy gave credit to the resilience of the Ukrainian people and also thanked those who had stayed to fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUGLE)

KAKISSIS: Zelenskyy spent the morning handing out medals to injured members of the military and the families of dead soldiers. At a makeshift memorial not far away, Olha Komarnytska watched soldiers hang up a portrait of her husband who was killed in action three months ago.

OLHA KOMARNYTSKA: (Through interpreter) Today, I have no words. It's hard. It's complicated. I can't even bring myself to say the name Russia.

KAKISSIS: She says this year has hardened her and her president as their country continues to fight for its life. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.