President Zelensky Receives Churchill Leadership Award Virtually

Outgoing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson awarded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the Sir Winston Churchill Leadership Award for his “sheer moral and physical courage” from London on July 26.

Zelensky, who accepted the honor virtually from Kyiv, called it “an award for all Ukrainians” including “every man and woman who fights for our country” in a statement.

“The global wave of solidarity for Ukraine was, in large measure generated by your own personal articulation of the cause,” said Johnson during the ceremony held at 10 Downing Street.

Johnson said the challenge Zelensky faced following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was “as severe as Churchill’s challenge in 1940” during World War ll.

Former recipients of the award include former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Credit: International Churchill Society via Storyful

Video transcript


LAURENCE GELLER: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Laurence Geller. I have the privilege of being the chairman of the International Churchill Society, and I thank you all for coming today, and thank the prime minister and the president being present.

On behalf of the International Churchill Society, we're here to honor his excellency-- his excellency President Volodymyr Zelensky. But in particular, I'd like to thank the Churchill family, our society's president, Randolph Churchill, Emma Soames, Jennie, Marina, and other family members, who send their best wishes but couldn't be with us today. And I thank them for their generous and constant support for our organization and upholding the values that we stand for.

I'd also particularly like to thank the prime minister and his team for hosting this event at Downing Street today, and above all, for the prime minister's unsparing support for the International Churchill Society once again.

Finally, I'd like to pay tribute to the Ukrainian ambassador, Vadym Prystaiko, whose determined efforts in the UK for the-- for the Ukrainian people deserve all of our admiration. We often hear of world-changing events. Lately, they seem to occur all too often. In truth, many events that seem so significant in the moment are all too often consigned to a state of obscurity.

So you might ask, how does an event take place as a key moment in history? Although there can be many reasons, above all and fundamentally, it is the propensity to inspire. It's the ability to surmount what seems an insurmountable enemy. It is defiance in the face of adversity. The response to the invasion of Ukraine and indeed Europe that we see today underscores this notion in a way that has not been seen since Sir Winston Churchill's global leadership over 80 years ago.

President Zelensky, much like Churchill, saw clearly he warned cleanly he is doing, what has to be done. His steadfast attachment to fundamental principles, his indifference to the pressures and expedience of the moment, and his unbending determination is saving his country and helping Europe know what it is and what it must be. He's standing up for freedom and democracy, and that does and must inspire us all.

It was Churchill who said, "once you take the position of not being able, in any circumstances, to defend your rights against aggression, there is no end to the demands that will be made or to the humiliations that must be accepted." His excellency President Zelensky understood this. He acted upon it without hesitation, and in the process, he has turned the tides of war in his country's favor. Indeed, once again, democracy is under siege in Europe, and it finds itself under threat of tyranny. And once more it is under the leadership of an unexpected statesman and hero that this threat is being repelled.

President Zelensky has demonstrated, much like Churchill did, that aggression must not be allowed to succeed and the rights of people to freely choose their own way of life must be upheld. This is the very epitome of democracy that Churchill fought for when he inspired freedom-loving people around the world during those very dark days of World War II.

But I'd like to also recognize the important role-- indeed critical role-- that Britain has played under the leadership of its prime minister. Mr. Johnson understood that it was Britain's duty to be strong enough to do all she can do to deter the aggressor, to engage, and to win the battle of ideas as Churchill sought to do and did. It is through President Zelensky's fortitude and Prime Minister's Johnson's unwavering support that Ukraine will retain the most precious gift of all, freedom, and freedom that can and will be passed on to future generations of Ukrainians yet to come.

But there's no glory in war beyond victory, and the events in Ukraine that are unfolding are a tragedy, and this organization does not seek to romanticize your struggle, Mr. President. It is our intention, as it has been since its creation in 1966, for the International Churchill Society to honor Sir Winston Churchill and the principles he stood for-- freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope, and always, always courage.

Yes, the International Churchill Society was created to memorialize these values in Churchill's name, but Mr. President, it is you, you and the Ukrainian people, that truly personify these. Mr. President, the wartime hero in whose name we honor you today would recognize the equality of the struggle you face to the one he faced in Britain's darkest hour. Mr. President, this society and our great nation support and salute you. Slava Ukraini.

BORIS JOHNSON: Good job. Good.


Thank you very much, Lawrence. President Zelensky, your excellency, Ambassador Vadym, great-- great to see you. Ladies and gentlemen, it's great to see people here today.

It was at 4:00 in the morning, I can tell you, on the 24th of February, 2022, that you called me, Volodymyr, to say that the incredible had actually happened an insanity had-- had broken out, and that Russian tanks were surging across the frontier of a sovereign independent country in Europe and cruise missiles were exploding all over Ukraine. And in that moment of supreme crisis, you faced a test of leadership that was, in its way, as severe as Churchill's challenge in 1940.

As the Russians launched their lightning assault on Kyiv, you knew, Volodymyr, that you were top of their target list and you knew that squads of killers were hunting for you. And you could have left Kyiv. You could have said-- you know, and it would have been hard to contradict you that the survival of the Ukrainian state required the survival of the president. But of course, Volodymyr, you did none of those things. You chose to stay in Kyiv among the Ukrainian people, just as Churchill stayed in London in 1940.

And when one world leader offered you a way out, you replied, I need ammunition, not a ride. And I think Churchill would have cheered and probably would have wept, too, because he was often moved to tears at the sheer courage, the moral, physical courage you showed in those grim weeks.

Now, I'd like to think that when Ukraine's tragedy triggered a global outpouring of support and when dozens of countries came forward to supply your heroic armed forces with weapons, scores of nations imposed sanctions on Russia, almost 3/4 of the entire membership of the United Nations voted to condemn the invasion, I would like to think that that was an inevitable reaction because never in my lifetime in international affairs has there been a clearer case of right against wrong.

But the truth is that it wasn't inevitable. That reaction wasn't inevitable. And the global wave of solidarity for Ukraine was in large measure generated by your own personal articulation of the cause. Your defiance, your dignity, your unfailing good humor, has moved millions. And as you stand against barbarism, you've become a symbol of the heroism of the Ukrainian people.

You've addressed so many parliaments that I've lost count, and you've brought both sides of the House of Commons to their feet, something that Churchill would surely have envied. And I can imagine his spirit walking with you, silently urging you on, encouraging you through every ordeal, jabbing the way ahead with his walking stick, and perhaps marveling at your own superb contempt for danger, something that I think he himself understood.

And like Churchill, you've understood that you're not yourself the lion. The Ukrainian people, of course, are the lion. But you have been called upon to give the roar, the roar of freedom against tyranny, of good against evil, of light against darkness. And you have delivered that roar magnificently. That's why it has been such a huge stroke of good fortune that you should have been in office at this time of crisis for Ukraine and the world. And inspired by your leadership, I know not just that Ukraine can win, but that Ukraine will win. And when that day comes, as it will, Ukraine will rise and take its place as a free, sovereign and independent nation. Thank you, Volodymyr, for everything that you have done. Slava Ukraini and--


Slava Ukraini and--


Our physical-- our physical separation notwithstanding, it gives me great pleasure, Volodymyr, to present you with this award, if you can see it, which I hope you can.


There you go. There he is. Vadym, you're going to take it on behalf of Volodymyr. Mr. Ambassador, you're a great man. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

LAURENCE GELLER: Thank you very much.




INTERPRETER: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, my friend. Boris, can you hear me?

BORIS JOHNSON: Good, yes, dobra.



INTERPRETER: Members of the Churchill Society, dear members of the Ukrainian team, where again-- as I know you are there as well, among the guests. This is my extreme honor to receive this award for the leadership. And I think it is very proper to remember the words of Winston Churchill [INAUDIBLE] that he said in May 1945, after the end--

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY: This is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class, it's a victory of the great British nation as a whole.


INTERPRETER: And now I can say that this award is not just--


INTERPRETER: Who without any doubt came to support. When celebrating the victory, Winston Churchill said that Britain, during the whole year, stood one on one against the biggest war power of that time and have not left the battlefield. But created the example to all people who are waging war against the tyranny. And this is the example of the fact that victory is possible if you are not standing away from your principles.

When we are going to celebrate our victory-- and this, of course, will happen-- we can-- will be able to say a bit differently from what Sir Winston said, because Ukraine was not left alone after the February 24th. We had those who were helping us who remembered, in the darkest times, what is honor and who had not-- no thought of quitting the struggle.

And I'm talking about you, Boris. This award is yours as well. And this is the manifestation of our joint leadership of Ukrainians, Britons, and all those who will not give their freedom away to any tyrants no matter what weapon they would use against us. The price of freedom is extremely high, but it is uncomparably higher to those who have lost it and is-- and are trying to gain it back versus those who are trying to protect it with all possible strength. We are fighting, and we are defending ourselves just like the horrific challenges in the 20th century, just like that.

The fact of the personal leadership is decisive. The leadership on the battlefield, the leadership in helping the warring army, the leadership in the international affairs. And although the stakes are different in this war, this is-- it is not less than eight years ago. We are talking-- we are fighting now not just for the land, although that too, not just for the human rights or the rights of one nation to live independently, although that too, not just for the freedom in Europe or along all the borders of Russian Federation, although this will also be safeguarded as a result of our victory.

We are fighting together for the war to not be even contemplated by any aggressor as means of achieving their aggressive goals. And maybe for the first time in the humankind history, we can demonstrate to everyone that democracy bringing together their forces, can stop any tyranny, although it may seem that this tyranny has unlimited resources for aggression.

But this can become a reality only if Russia loses to Ukraine on the battlefield. This is why we have to continue the supplies of sufficient, effective contemporary weapons so that we can break the bone of the advancing capacity of Russian Federation. We have to apply sanctions against Russia and all those who are assisting terror or doing terror. We have to bring more nations into our coalition of protecting the freedom, especially those against which the Russia in the 21st century decided to-- to use one of the most horrific types of weapon-- the famine, the artificial famine.

The democracies of the world can stop any tyranny, any evil that puts our freedom in jeopardy. And only-- the leadership of the international world should suffice to do so. And we should have an ounce of patience as well, the patience on the way to freedom. No one knows how much time and effort it will take to achieve that victory, but the victory is worthwhile to pursue this path, and this will become a joint history as prominent as it was during Churchill times, and will be quoted just like he was quoted.

I would like to thank you. Thank you for this award, for the award to the people of Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine.

BORIS JOHNSON: Hey, thank you. Well done. Thank you, Volodymyr. Great job, everybody. Thank you. Thank you, Volodymyr. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Volodymyr. Hope to see you again soon. And thank you, everybody, very much for coming. It's great to see you all here this morning. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I'm going to come and say hello. Hello. How are you? Hi. I'm Boris. How are you? Were you-- have you been training up in-- have you been up in Canada?

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