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The strength and the heart of the Russian people have always inspired me. That is why I hope that you will let me tell you the truth about the war in Ukraine.
By Arnold Schwarzenegger
I have a message for my Russian friends, and for the Russian soldiers serving in Ukraine: There are things going on in the world that have been kept from you, terrible things that you should know about. But before I tell you about the harsh realities, let me tell you about the Russian who became my hero.
In 1961, when I was 14 years old, I had the chance to attend the World Weightlifting Championships in Vienna. Yury Petrovich Vlasov won the world-championship title, becoming the first human being to lift 200 kilograms over his head. Somehow, a friend of mine got me backstage. All of a sudden a 14-year-old boy was standing in front of the strongest man in the world. I couldn’t believe it. He reached out to shake my hand. I still had a boy’s hand. He had this powerful man’s hand that swallowed mine, but he was kind. And he smiled at me.
I never forgot that day. I went home and put his photo above my bed. It inspired me when I started lifting weights, but it angered my father. He didn’t like Russians, because of his experience in the Second World War, when he was injured in Leningrad. (The Nazi army that he was part of did vicious harm to that great city and to its brave people.) My father told me to take Petrovich’s picture down, and to find a German or Austrian hero. But I did not take the photograph down, because it didn’t matter to me what flag he carried.
Years later, I was in Moscow to film Red Heat, the first American movie allowed to film in Red Square. Yury and I spent the whole day together. He was so thoughtful, so kind, so smart, and very giving. He gave me a blue coffee cup that I still use every morning.
The reason I’m telling you all of this is that ever since I was 14 years old, I’ve had nothing but affection and respect for the people of Russia. The strength and the heart of the Russian people have always inspired me. That is why I hope that you will let me tell you the truth about the war in Ukraine. No one likes to hear something critical of their government. I understand that. But as a longtime friend of the Russian people, I hope that you will hear what I have to say.
I spoke to the American people this way last year on January 6, when a wild crowd was storming the U.S. Capitol trying to overthrow our government. There are moments that are so wrong that we have to speak up.
I know that your government has told you this is a war to de-Nazify Ukraine. This is not true. De-Nazify Ukraine? It is a country with a Jewish president—a Jewish president, I might add, whose grandfather’s three brothers were all murdered by the Nazis. Ukraine did not start this war. Neither did nationalists or Nazis. Those in power in the Kremlin started this war; this is not the Russian people’s war.
Let me tell you what you should know. One hundred forty-one nations at the United Nations voted that Russia was the aggressor and called for it to remove its troops immediately. Only four countries in the entire world voted with Russia. That is a fact. The world has turned against Russia because of its actions in Ukraine. Whole city blocks have been flattened by Russian artillery and bombs, including a children’s hospital and a maternity hospital. Three million Ukrainian refugees, mainly women, children, and the elderly, have already fled the country, and many more now seek to get out. It is a humanitarian crisis. Russia, because of its brutality, is now isolated from the society of nations.
You’re also not being told the truth about the consequences of this war for Russia itself. I regret to tell you that thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed. They’ve been caught between Ukrainians fighting for their homeland and the Russian leadership fighting for conquest. Massive amounts of Russian equipment have been destroyed or abandoned. The destruction that Russian bombs are raining down upon innocent civilians has so outraged the world that the strongest global economic sanctions ever enacted have been imposed on the country. Those who don’t deserve it on both sides of the war will suffer.
The Russian government has lied not only to its citizens, but also to its soldiers. Some of the soldiers were told they were going to fight the Nazis. Some were told that the Ukrainian people would greet them like heroes. Some were told that they were simply going on exercises—they didn’t even know that they were going into war. And some were told that they were there to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine. None of this was true. Russian soldiers have faced fierce resistance from the Ukrainians who want to protect their families.
When I see babies being pulled out of ruins, I feel like I’m watching a documentary about the horrors of the Second World War, not the news of today. When my father arrived in Leningrad, he was all pumped up on the lies of his government. When he left Leningrad, he was broken physically and mentally. He spent the rest of his life in pain: pain from a broken back, pain from the shrapnel that always reminded him of those terrible years, pain from the guilt that he felt.
Russian soldiers already know much of this truth. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. I don’t want you to be broken like my father. This is not a war to defend Russia like your grandfathers and your great-grandfathers fought. This is an illegal war. Your lives, your limbs, and your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war, condemned by the entire world. Remember that 11 million Russians have family connections to Ukraine. With every bullet that you shoot, you shoot a brother or a sister. Every bomb and every shell that falls is falling not on an enemy, but on a school or a hospital or a home.
I don’t think the Russian people are aware that such things are happening. So I urge the Russian people and the Russian soldiers in Ukraine to understand the propaganda and the disinformation that you are being told. I ask you to help me spread the truth so that your fellow Russians will know the human catastrophe that is happening in Ukraine. To President Putin, I say: You started this war. You’re leading this war. You can stop this war now.
And to the Russians who have been protesting on the streets against the invasion of Ukraine: The world has seen your bravery. We know that you have suffered the consequences of your courage. You have been arrested. You have been jailed and you’ve been beaten. You are my new heroes. You have the strength of Yury Petrovich Vlasov. You have the true heart of Russia.