BY ILLIA NOVIKOV AND HANNA ARHIROVA
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy late Monday ruled out holding a presidential vote in the spring and urged his countrymen to avoid political divides, saying they must concentrate all resources on fighting Russia.
Zelenskyy’s comments in a video address follow increasing discussions about the possibility of a presidential election in March. Zelenskyy, who was elected for a five-year term in March 2019, had previously avoided definitive statements on the question. His associates had said he was pondering various possibilities.
“Now, in wartime, when there are so many challenges, it is absolutely irresponsible to throw the topic of elections into society in a lighthearted and playful way,” Zelenskyy said, adding that ”the waves of any politically divisive things must stop.”
“We must realize that now is the time of defense, the time of the battle that determines the fate of the state and people, not the time of manipulations, which only Russia expects from Ukraine,” he said. “I believe that now is not the right time for elections.”
Ukrainian legislation bans elections during martial law that has been in place since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022. The country would need to amend the law if it decided to hold the vote.
Zelenskyy, who last week rejected an assessment from his top military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, that the war has grown into a stalemate, warned against political rifts and strongly emphasized the need for national unity.
“We need to pull ourselves together, avoid unwinding and splitting up into disputes or other priorities,” he said.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s victory “will come if we all focus on it” and “not on politicking or searching for some personal interest” or “disagreements that will do nothing for the country, defense, and our advancement.”
Zelenskyy’s comments came as a top aide to Zaluzhnyi was killed by a grenade given to him as a gift for his 39th birthday.
Some suspected a targeted attack, but Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said Maj. Hennadii Chastiakov’s death was a tragic accident that also badly injured his 13-year-old son.
A colleague presented six new grenades as a gift to Chastiakov, who was a top aide and close friend to Zaluzhnyi, Klymenko said.
He said Chastiakov was showing off the grenades to his family at home when his son took one and began twisting the ring.
“The serviceman then took the grenade from the child and pulled the ring, leading to a tragic explosion,” Klymenko said.
The officer’s death was the second fatal tragedy in less than a week for Ukraine’s military.
A Ukrainian brigade holding a ceremony in Zaporizhzhia to honor troops on Friday was struck by a Russian missile that killed 19 soldiers, one of the deadliest single attacks reported by Ukrainian forces.
The commander of the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, Dmytro Lysiuk, was suspended as authorities investigate why the Rocket Forces and Artillery Day event was held near the front line, where Russian reconnaissance drones could easily spot the gathering.
Ukrainian media reported that Lysiuk was late for the ceremony and didn’t suffer injuries.
“It will be determined who specifically violated the rules regarding the safety of people in the area of the enemy’s aerial reconnaissance access,” Zelenskyy said. “There will be no avoidance of responsibility.”
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