‘Russia Has No Chance Of Winning This War’: Zelenskyy Talks With Yale MBAs

Yale University student Tania Tsunik, who comes from Pershotravensk, Ukraine, asks President Zelenskyy a question during the special live, virtual Q&A with the Ukrainian leader at the Yale SOM. Screenshot by P&Q

All eyes in Zhang Auditorium at Yale School of Management turned to the young woman in the bright yellow sweatshirt. Gripping the microphone, voice trembling, she looked at her president on the large screen and asked her question:

“President Zelensky, thank you so much for your time, I’m Tania, I’m from Ukraine, the small town of Pershotravensk in Dnipro region. I just wanted first to say how truly proud I am that such a president represents the Ukrainian people. (You are the) president we deserve, and I think you are the president who deserves to represent us,” said the Yale University student, Tania Tsunik.

“And my question is: After this war is won, and after Ukraine wins, how do you imagine the reconstruction and the reformation of Ukraine?”

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy watched and listened from a desk in Kyiv flanked by Ukrainian flags. Instead of a suit and tie, he wore a tactical-style t-shirt that has become his calling card, whether meeting with world leaders, speaking with journalists, or rallying Ukrainian citizens on the front lines. This t-shirt, olive green, read “Fight Like Ukrainians.”

Zelenskyy smiled as he noted that he, too, comes from the Dnipro region.

“We share the same small homeland. It’s a pleasure, a pleasure indeed. I’m proud to see students like you representing Ukraine in the United States and elsewhere in the world,” Zelenskyy told Tsunik through his translator.

“In the rebuilding and recovery of our nation, we need to do everything to see students like you, who currently represent our country abroad, to have an opportunity — and also the desire — to come back and chip in, to participate in this recovery,” he said.

“This is not just the matter of money. It’s a matter of best practices, best experiences, best IT software, best scholars, best architects coming back to restore the country. We cannot go back just to the country we used to see and have before the war … We need to do everything to see you, and others like you, to gladly come back and rediscover Ukraine.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined the Yale SOM event virtually from Kyiv. Screenshot by P&Q

ZELENSKYY SPEAKS TO YALE COMMUNITY

On Friday (October 28), the Yale School of Management hosted a special live Q&A with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the school’s Zhang Auditorium. In a lively 90-minute discussion with several newsworthy moments, the president’s exchange with the Ukrainian student was among the most poignant.

Via Zoom, Zelenskyy answered several direct questions of Yale MBA students and predicted, as he has done from the onset of the war, a Ukrainian victory. The event also featured comments from U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Lindsey Graham of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and questions from CNBC Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche. CNBC covered the event live.

The senators reaffirmed previous calls for a new U.S. aid package for Ukraine to be passed before the new Congress is seated, for Russia to be designated a state sponsor of terrorism, and for Russian war crimes be prosecuted in The Hague, including those by Vladimir Putin himself.

“We want the business community who may be watching this program to know that you do business with Russia at your own peril,” Senator Graham said in his remarks.

AFFIRMING YALE’S CONTINUED SUPPORT OF UKRAINE

Yale has maintained a close relationship with Ukraine and Zelenskyy since the Russian Invasion in February.

This event was organized by Yale School of Management’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI) and hosted by professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. He — along with his CELI research team includes student volunteers from the Corporate Social Impact Club, graduate students from Yale’s Arts & Sciences college, and a large section of MBAs from SOM — published and continually updates a comprehensive list of companies that have publicly announced curtailing business operations in Russia. Their list so far includes more than 1,000 companies who’ve stopped doing business in Russia after the invasion.

Yale School of Management Senior Associate Dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

That list helped trigger the largest mass exodus of multinationals in world history, Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean and Lester Crown Professor of Leadership Practice, noted in his remarks to open the event.

“This is a special moment, of course, for Yale; it’s a special period for Ukraine,” Sonnnfeld told the crowd. “(Yale) got involved very early on. President Zylenskyy joined Yale at (its CEO Summit) in June, in part because he wanted to reach corporate leaders. It was his first live interactive discussion unscripted — not an appeal, not a call to action. It was a discussion with corporate leaders from Citi Group, to Ethan Allen, to Chobani, to Goldman Sachs. But he wanted to talk to students, particularly students from the U.S. to reach different audiences.”

On Friday, President Zelenskyy spoke to the Yale community at a critical juncture in the conflict, more than eight months on from Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion, said Yale President Peter Salovey.

“As the winter season approaches, Ukraine must recover and rebuild amid continued aggression, including the Russian government’s ruthless attacks on its utilities and its energy infrastructure,” Salovey said. “I would like to reaffirm Yale’s steadfast support for members of our Ukrainian community, and those Yale students and scholars from elsewhere in the region.

“As I remarked at a vigil that we held at the outset of this crisis, we’re compelled by our common sense of humanity to reject Putin’s violence in the strongest terms. We stand for peace. We grieve for lives lost. And we will continue to support individual students in any capacity we can, as our scholars also help policymakers chart a path toward peace.”

Poets&Quants was invited to sit in on the live, virtual event. Below, we present excerpts from the 90-minute exchange, edited for length and clarity. You can watch the full video here.

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY OPENING REMARKS

For Russia, this is more than just to grab our lab, not just to destroy our statehood, not just to spread imperial influence. What Russia tries to destroy is something that has always been reborn in our people, in spite of all the wars, in spite of all the invaders, even in spite of this Kremlin-inspired genocide policy against the Ukrainians … of Holodomor, an artificial famine launched against the people. Ukrainians have to go through really horrible things, yet they have been able to retain the ability to stay unbowed, their will for freedom, the internal surety that it is the people who are the source of power on any land. Not the Tsar with its throne, not power, not wealth, but people.

And it’s very important that Ukraine has the potential to defend this fundamental democratic spirit, not just for itself, but also for other people in other parts of the world. This is where the real frontline is. Every Ukrainian military unit has guardian angels, people able to help with anything our servicemen. This is a constant direct link between the defense forces and the society. Can you see something like that in Russia? …

Meanwhile, the Russian flag they tried to instill on temporarily occupied territories was only the symbol of mass graves, torture houses, deportations, infiltration camps and total disrepair. You can just imagine that Russian invaders are taking Ukrainian books out of libraries to destroy them. They destroy everything that even remotely reminds about Ukraine. Already 51 Ukrainian universities suffered from Russian missile and artillery strikes. At checkpoints Russian soldiers make strip searches of people to identify even slightest symbols of Ukraine. You can have a yellow and blue ribbon on your backpack, and this might be a valid reason for Russian military to detain, torture, or kill. There have been hundreds or thousands of such cases. Why? Because everything Ukrainian is a target in the crosshairs with Russia.

Relatives of Vadym Trembovetskyi, a former Cornell MBA now living in Germany, huddle in a basement during bombing outside their homes in Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Vadym Trembovetskyi)

This is how they perceive it in the Kremlin: They need to destroy the people and the freedoms. They don’t believe they can subjugate Ukraine in any other way. This is why they asked Iran for those killer drones and missiles, and you can see where these killer drones are aimed at: They are aimed against power plants, boiler plants, transport means, even residential houses.

And this is exactly the point where we see the strategic threat from the Russian aggression. Because after Ukraine and everything Ukrainian, Russia will try to destroy something Polish, something Georgian, everything that belongs to people on the vast territory from the north of Europe to Kazakhstan. This is why we say that it’s important for the whole of the world to see that Russia loses this time, in this war in Ukraine. When we gain victory for ourselves, we will gain it also for other people …

I’m very much sure that Russia has no chance of winning this war, but the sooner we stop Russia the better and the stronger will be our cooperation. The more threats from Russia we have, the more and the deeper our interaction should be. The more escalation steps Russia commits, the more we will have to do our steps in response to defend our freedoms and our people. We should not step back, we should not give Russia even the smallest hope that its terror can work.

It is exactly right now in Ukraine where it is decided whether our path to the world will remain free and democratic. And this will ultimately identify the global fate of the democracy. It is for us to decide the future of the free world, not for Russia. Glory to Ukraine.

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