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Zelenskyy: We need those who fled abroad to return to Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Kaja Kallas at Stenbock House on January 11, 2023.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Kaja Kallas at Stenbock House on January 11, 2023. Source: riigikantselei/Raul Mee

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday his country needs men of mobilization age who fled abroad to return, either to fight against Russia or to contribute to the economy.

"We see that there are people who have gone abroad in violation of Ukrainian rules. These men, if they are of mobilization age, should be in Ukraine helping Ukraine. I am not talking here about whether and who should be on the front line, we have a law for that. But it is about ethics and morals," Zelenskyy said at a press conference with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) in Tallinn.

Zelenskyy pointed out that money generated by six to eight taxpayers is needed to fund one soldier fighting at the front.

"Even if you are in Ukraine and you are not on the front line, but you are working and paying taxes, you are also contributing, you are defending the country, and that is very much needed," Zelenskyy said.

"But if you're abroad and of mobilization age, but you're not paying taxes in Ukraine and you've left the country illegally, then we have questions," the president said in response to a question from Õhtuleht journalist Kadri Kuulpak.

However, Zelenskyy did not directly answer whether Estonia should extradite Ukrainian men of mobilization age living here. Estonian ministers have said they are willing to send Ukrainians back.

"If we want to save Ukraine and Europe, we all have to think about whether we are helping Ukraine or not. Whether we are citizens who are on the battlefield or citizens who work and pay taxes. Otherwise, there will be no money for the military and no one left to defend Ukraine," he said.

Zelenskyy also thanked Estonia and the Estonian people for the help provided since the beginning of the Russian aggression, as well as for supporting Ukraine's efforts to join the European Union and NATO. 

The president also highlighted Estonia's role as an example in encouraging hesitant countries to help Ukraine.

Estonia has provided military assistance to Ukraine amounting to around 1.4 percent of GDP, around €80 million.

"We also decided that Estonia's long-term military assistance to Ukraine will be 0.25 percent of our GDP over the next four years. If all the countries supporting Ukraine made a similar commitment, this would lead to a definite victory for Ukraine," Kallas said.

Watch the press conference below.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright

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