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During the interview, which aired Sunday, the CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, played a video of a Ukrainian woman collapsing into tears after she had seen the body of her son in a well.
"What is it like for you, as the president of this country, to see those videos — to hear the crying of the moms?"
"This is the most horrifying thing I have seen in my life," Zelensky replied. "I look at this first of all as a father. It hurts so, so much. It's a tragedy. It is suffering. I won't be able to imagine the scale of suffering of these people, of this woman. It is a family's tragedy. It is a disaster. It is the dreams and life you've just lost. We live for our kids, that's true. Kids are the best we were given by God."
"This is the most horrifying thing I have seen in my life."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr @ZelenskyyUa opens up about the emotional toll of the war in an exclusive interview with CNN's @jaketapper in Kyiv. #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/iCIChcSyyA
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) April 17, 2022
Zelensky told CNN that he finds he has to separate his government role from his personal life while watching videos like this.
"It is a great pain for me. I can't watch it as a father, only because all you want after this is for revenge and to kill. I have to watch it as the president of the state where a lot of people have died and lost their loved ones," he said, stressing that he needs to push for peace to end the suffering. "We all have to do our best for the war to not be endless. The longer it is, the more we would lose. All these losses will be just like that one."
According to the Daily Beast, the woman had just identified her young son in the village of Buzova, near Kyiv. The outskirts of the Ukrainian capital have been the site of atrocities found in the wake of Russian military withdrawal from the area. Journalists and other observers saw bodies strewn on the side of roads in suburbs like Bucha, some with their hands tied behind their backs. Ukrainian police say they have found over 900 civilian bodies in the region. (Russia denies responsibility, although some of the Kremlin's claims have been disproved by satellite and other evidence.)
But with once-thriving Ukrainian cities like Mariupol besieged by Russians and reduced to rubble, Zelensky noted that it's impossible to get a full assessment of the casualties so far in the war, which Russia launched in February. More than 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced because of the violence, and more than 4 million of them have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
"Russia calls it a 'military operation' and not a 'war.' But look what happened in Bucha. It's clear that is not even a war; it's a genocide," Zelensky said.
"They just kill people — not soldiers, people. They just shot people in the streets. People riding bicycles, taking the bus, or just walking down the street. There were corpses lining the streets. These were corpses lining the streets. These were not soldiers; they were civilians. They bound their hands. They forced children to watch as they raped their mothers. Then they threw them in a well, or in mass graves. Children. Adults. The elderly."