Sean Penn hails President Zelensky's 'courage' after meeting him the day of Putin's invasion


An emotional Sean Penn has praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his ‘courage and dignity’ after meeting him the day of the Russian invasion.

The actor, 61, hailed both the President and the Ukrainian people for their courage as he urged the US to ‘invest everything’ into supporting their democracy or ‘lose a legitimate memory of what America hopes to be’.

The filmmaker spoke to CNN after leaving the Ukraine, where he met with Zelensky on the day Vladimir Putin’s tanks entered the country as he filmed a VICE documentary about escalating tensions in the region.

The documentary is a VICE Studios production, ‘in association with VICE World News and Endeavor Content,’ according to a spokesman for the media company. 

Ukraine war: latest 

  • Crowds of men have been lining up in Kyiv to join the Ukrainian army. An order from Ukraine´s government prohibited men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country to keep them available for military conscription;
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that China opposes any moves that ‘add fuel to the flames’ in Ukraine. Blinken says the world is watching to see which nations stand up for the principles of freedom and sovereignty;
  • U.S. President Joe Biden has called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss ongoing efforts to impose economic costs on Russia and to speed U.S. military, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine;
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk for giving Ukraine access to his company´s satellite-internet system, called Starlink; 
  • Russia has dropped powerful bombs on residential areas of the city of Chernihiv, a regional official said Saturday 
  • Mastercard and Visa are suspending their operations in Russia, the companies said Saturday; 
  • Russian forces have intensified shelling in the port city of Mariupol, including with the use of airplanes, the mayor said Saturday night; 
  • Vladimir Putin says Western sanctions on Russia are almost a declaration of war and that anyone imposing a no-fly zone on Ukraine would be considered to have entered the conflict; 
  • Russia announces a ceasefire to allow civilian evacuation of Mariupol and Volnovakha;
  • Officials in Mariupol accuse the Russians of violating the ceasefire by continuing to shell the city; 
  • Russian forces inch closer to the capital Kyiv from the north but encounter stiff resistance along the way;
  • On Thursday, 47 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a residential neighbourhood in Chernihiv;
  • A fire at Europe’s biggest nuclear power station at Zaporizhzhia is put out on Friday, with Ukraine accusing Russia of ‘nuclear terror’ in shelling the plant
  • Putin in a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Moscow is ready for dialogue over Ukraine if all its demands are met;
  • Putin signs a law imposing harsh jail sentences for the publication of ‘fake news’ about the invasion; 

 

Penn, his voice cracking with emotion, spoke about his experience queuing with Ukrainian refugees to leave the country, saying he was ‘lucky’ that he was able to abandon his hire car and walk as many families remained stuck in gridlocked queues towards the border.

More than 1.5 million refugees have crossed from Ukraine into neighbouring countries in just the past eleven days amid bitter urban fighting and Russian bombing campaigns against major cities, according to the United Nations.

Russia claimed it is opening new ‘humanitarian corridors’ out of surrounded cities including Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Kyiv starting at 7am UK time today in order to allow civilians to evacuate – though few expect Putin’s men to observe the temporary truce after two similar corridors failed at the weekend. 

As the invasion entered its twelfth day, cities were hit by fresh bombardments as Zelensky vowed that ‘God will not forgive’ and Ukraine ‘will not forget’ the slaughter of civilians by Russians.

People have called for a no-fly zone above Ukraine – something that Ukraine’s President again requested on Saturday – but the White House was struggling with how best to support Ukraine without drawing US and NATO forces into direct conflict with Russia.

As Russia’s invasion continues, Penn hailed the ‘courage’ of the Ukrainian people and president Zelensky as he spoke on CNN after leaving Kyiv.

When he was in the Ukrainian capital, Penn met Zelensky on the day Russian tanks rolled into the country, with the actor saying Zelensky was ‘born for’ his role as president. 

Speaking about the meeting, he told Anderson Cooper: ‘Meeting with President Zelensky the day before the invasion and then meeting with him again on the day of the invasion, I don’t know if he knew that he was born for this, but it was clear I was in the presence of something, again it was reflective of so many Ukrainians, that was new, that was new to the modern world in terms of courage and dignity and love that comes out of that man.’

Penn described the situation in the Ukraine as ‘heartbreaking’ as he warned of the ‘ripple effects’ the invasion could have on the rest of the world, as he urged the US to do more to support the Ukrainian people’s ‘democracy and belief in free dreaming’.

The director, who became emotional throughout the interview, warned that without supporting Ukraine during the invasion, Americans could ‘plummet off a cliff’ and lose sight of ‘what America hoped to be’. 

Touching on the calls for a no-fly zone above Ukraine, Penn admitted that he did not know the answers to the conflict, but called on US President Joe Biden to assist the country. 

He added: ‘I don’t know if no-fly zones will create a nuclear war, I do know that we have to invest everything that we have to support the Ukrainian people and support President Zelensky or I do not think we will have a legitimate memory of what America hoped to be.’

Sean Penn T hailed both the President and the Ukrainian people for their courage as he urged the US to 'invest everything' into supporting their democracy or 'lose a legitimate memory of what America hopes to be'

Sean Penn T hailed both the President and the Ukrainian people for their courage as he urged the US to ‘invest everything’ into supporting their democracy or ‘lose a legitimate memory of what America hopes to be’

His comments came after Penn met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on February 24 as war ripped through Ukraine. Penn was in the region filming a documentary for VICE

His comments came after Penn met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on February 24 as war ripped through Ukraine. Penn was in the region filming a documentary for VICE

On Sunday, the White House was struggling with how best to support Ukraine without drawing US and NATO forces into direct conflict with Russia. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House had given the ‘green light’ for Poland to send fighter jets to Ukraine – a declaration that Moscow forcibly rejected. It concluded with Poland describing reports of their sending jets to Ukraine as ‘fake news’.

Here’s how YOU can help: Donate here to the Mail Force Ukraine Appeal

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Calling upon that human spirit, we are now launching an appeal to raise money for refugees from Ukraine.

For, surely, no one can fail to be moved by the heartbreaking images and stories of families – mostly women, children, the infirm and elderly – fleeing from Russia’s invading armed forces.

As this tally of misery increases over the coming days and months, these innocent victims of a tyrant will require accommodation, schools and medical support.

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Instead of directly engaging in the fight with Russia, the US and its allies in the 30-member NATO group were sending weapons to Ukraine; more than 17,000 anti-tank weapons, including Javelin missiles, have been sent by land to Ukraine over the borders of Poland and Romania since the conflict began.

A $350million package of military aid was approved by Congress on February 26, two days into the conflict, and 70 per cent of it was delivered in five days. By contrast, a $60million arms package to Ukraine agreed to in August was not completed until November, the Pentagon said.

The New York Times described the pace of delivery of arms as ‘warp speed.’

Speaking about global support for the Ukraine, Penn said he thinks the country have noticed that ‘the cavalry is not coming’ as he described seeing mothers and children queuing to escape the country at the border. 

He also praised Russian people who have continued to speak out against the Russian invasion, despite threats from Putin which has seen more than 3,500 people in cities across Russia being detained while taking part in anti-war protests, figures show.

Penn went on to speak about his own departure from the Ukraine, after he visited the country to film a documentary about the ongoing conflict in the country, saying he had the luxury of being able to abandon his hire car and walk to the border.

The Mystic River star said in the time that he walked to the border, he didn’t see a single car move any considerable distance, saying for many refugees, their cars were the only things they had left. 

He said: ‘I didn’t see any luggage, it’s as though they wanted to believe they could come back, and there was an immediacy to leave because of the incredible amount of people leaving and how long it takes to get out of the country now.’

The emotional actor said that he was ‘glad’ to have been able to see what it was like for refugees trying to get across the border as he urged people to read the news to get a ‘personal reference’ and understand the situation in the country. 

Penn, who founded non-profit organization CORE, also said his relief company are helping refugees who have crossed the border into Poland, and also hope to be able to cross into Ukraine to help those who are yet to leave.   

The United Nations has declared the mass exodus of more than 1.5 million people from Ukraine as Europe’s ‘fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II’.  

It comes as European Union officials expressed concerns on Saturday that as many as seven million people could cross into neighbouring countries such as Poland, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary in the coming months, which campaigners say will create a ‘disturbing spike in human trafficking’.

Penn’s heartbreaking comments come after he met with Ukrainian president Zelensky and attended government press briefings for part of a VICE documentary he is filming.

Penn – who found himself in the cartel’s firing line in 2016 after getting in touch with fugitive drug lord El Chapo – sat with his sunglasses on for the press briefing at the Ukrainian government offices on Thursday evening local time. 

Russian forces are continuing to pound Mariupol, in the south, Kharkiv, in the east, Chernihiv, in the north, and Mykolaiv, in the south, with artillery - but have made little or no gains in territory in recent days. Forces continue to work to surround the capital Kyiv, though progress has been slow. Attacks on civilian areas on the outskirts have increased

Russian forces are continuing to pound Mariupol, in the south, Kharkiv, in the east, Chernihiv, in the north, and Mykolaiv, in the south, with artillery – but have made little or no gains in territory in recent days. Forces continue to work to surround the capital Kyiv, though progress has been slow. Attacks on civilian areas on the outskirts have increased

Actor and director Sean Penn attends a press briefing at the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022

Actor and director Sean Penn attends a press briefing at the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022

Actor and director Sean Penn attends a press briefing at the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022

Actor and director Sean Penn attends a press briefing at the Presidential Office in Kyiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022

He met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who posted a video of their meeting on his Instagram account. 

Their conversation was muted but Zelensky, a former comedian and actor himself, wrote in a caption: ‘The more people know about the war in the Ukraine, the higher the likelihood of stopping Russia!’

Penn has been filming a documentary about escalating tensions in the region for months. He flew back to Kyiv earlier this week, before Putin invaded the country, and has now left the war-torn region. 

In a translated Facebook post, the Ukrainian government said it was grateful for Penn being there. He was lauded as being more courageous than Western leaders. 

‘An American actor and filmmaker, Oscar winner Sean Penn arrived to Ukraine. The director specially came to Kyiv to record all the events that are currently happening in Ukraine and to tell the world the truth about Russia’s invasion of our country.

‘Sean Penn is among those who support Ukraine in Ukraine today. Our country is grateful to him for such a show of courage and honesty.

In a translated Facebook post, the Ukrainian government said it was grateful for him being there. He was lauded as being more courageous than Western leaders.

In a translated Facebook post, the Ukrainian government said it was grateful for him being there. He was lauded as being more courageous than Western leaders.

Penn is understood to be filming a documentary about how the Donbas region has been impacted by battles with pro-Moscow rebels

Penn was flanked by security and military service personnel as he walked along a settlement close to the frontline

Penn has been in the region since November last year, flying back and forth, to document the escalating tensions for VICE 

Actor and director Sean Penn visits positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near the frontline with Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk region in November last year

Actor and director Sean Penn visits positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near the frontline with Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk region in November last year

‘This morning the director visited the Office of the President and visited the press briefing of the advisor of the head of the Office of the Head of State Mikhail Podolâk and the Vice Prime Minister – the Minister of the Reintegration of temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine Irina Vere щуuk. 

‘He spoke to journalists, to our military, saw how we defend our country.

‘Sean Penn demonstrates the courage that many others, especially western politicians lack.’

‘The more such people, true friends of Ukraine, who support the fight for freedom, the sooner it will be possible to stop the massive attack on Russia,’ a statement on the Ukrainian government’s Facebook page read. 

Earlier in the week, he was spotted out at dinners in Kyiv with other journalists.  

Penn with Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Alexander Rodnyansky in Kyiv on Tuesday night, a day before the first bombs were dropped

Penn with Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Alexander Rodnyansky in Kyiv on Tuesday night, a day before the first bombs were dropped

Penn is pictured in Kyiv earlier this week with war reporter former U.S. Air Force special operations pilot Nolan Peterson (center) and columnist and editor Vladislav Davidzon

Penn is pictured in Kyiv earlier this week with war reporter former U.S. Air Force special operations pilot Nolan Peterson (center) and columnist and editor Vladislav Davidzon 

Taste for danger: Penn with El Chapo and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo in 2015, after El Chapo had broken out of prison

Taste for danger: Penn with El Chapo and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo in 2015, after El Chapo had broken out of prison 

Penn prides himself for his journalism and activism. 

He previously filmed his efforts in Haiti for a documentary called Citizen Penn, after a devastating earthquake shook the nation. 

In 2016, he found himself caught up in the US investigation into fugitive drug lord El Chapo, after he made contact with him while working on a Rolling Stone article. 

Mexican actress Kate del Castillo arranged for the men to meet, and later said she felt used by Penn. 

She persuaded El Chapo to meet with Penn in 2015, after he had broken out of prison. 

During the clandestine meeting, Penn sprang on her to ask Guzman if he could interview him for Rolling Stone. 

‘Suddenly, Sean starts saying, ‘Tell him that I want to interview him for Rolling Stone magazine,’ Del Castillo told Gloria, Lili and Emily Estefan. ‘I was just like, ‘Wait, this was not on the script.’ … I cannot do a face because [Guzman is] gonna notice that something’s wrong. 

‘He’s gonna pick up on it, and [Penn is] gonna be dead in just a blink of my eye,’ she said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times later. 

There was speculation that the pair’s pursuit of El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman, led to US authorities tracking him down and re-arresting him. 

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