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Zelensky’s famous quote of ‘need ammo, not a ride’ not easily confirmed

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Ukraine Presidency Press Office/AFP/Getty Images)
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“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

— Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in a quote cited in an Associated Press article, Feb. 25

It’s been one of the most-cited lines of the Russian invasion of Ukraine — a defiant president refusing a U.S. offer to move to a more secure location away from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Hundreds of news articles have cited the line. It’s appeared repeatedly on television newscasts, such as this “Inside Edition” report on the “global hero.”

But, so far, the only evidence for this line is an unnamed U.S. official. It has not been confirmed by either the U.S. government or Zelensky’s office.

The Facts

The AP story on Feb. 25 made a key point — that Zelensky uttered this remark as he rejected a U.S. offer of an immediate evacuation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was asked to evacuate Kyiv at the behest of the U.S. government but turned down the offer. Zelensky said in response: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation, who described Zelensky as upbeat.

The attribution was a single source, but on the surface it appears to be a good one — a senior U.S. official “with direct knowledge of the conversation.” That suggests a person with access to a transcript or who had even listened in on the call.

Still, it’s just one source. Administration officials expressed confusion about the claim to The Fact Checker — they deny Zelensky was asked to leave Kyiv by the U.S. government — and said they do not know what call the AP is citing.

James LaPorta, the reporter, is a well-sourced former Marine who covers the military and national security for the AP’s investigations team. He told The Fact Checker that he could only say that this was not a call that involved President Biden. “I can understand why they have been denying it,” he said. “It makes them look bad.”

Ordinarily, many news organizations would not cite a single-source secondhand quote by another news organization. But this was a delectable quote — and then a workaround appeared. The Ukrainian Embassy in Britain on Feb. 26 tweeted:

“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” — @ZelenskyyUa on the US evacuation offer. Ukrainians are proud of their President.”

Now news organizations could cite the Ukrainian Embassy as a source. For instance:

  • CNN — “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has turned down an offer from the United States of evacuation from the capital city Kyiv, the Ukraine embassy in Britain said Saturday on Twitter.”
  • New York Times: “Mr. Zelensky’s response to a reported American offer to evacuate him — ‘I need ammunition, not a ride’ — will most likely go down in Ukrainian history whether he survives this onslaught or not.”

The Ukrainian Embassy in the U.K. did not respond to emailed requests for comment on whether it had independent confirmation or if it was relying on the AP report.

Serhiy Nykyforov, Zelensky’s press secretary, told The Fact Checker that he could not confirm whether the president had uttered the famous line or was asked to leave the capital by the Americans.

“Personally, I did not hear it. It might have been said in private conversation,” he said in a phone interview. He said U.S. officials “were concerned about his safety very much. But I did not hear them say it straightforwardly like that.”

Nykyforov added, however, that the reported retort by Zelensky captured the essence of the moment. “Even if he did not say it, all of his actions and his requests mean that,” he said pointing to Zelensky’s continued presence in Kyiv and his daily requests for more equipment to wage the war.

The Bottom Line

Obviously, Zelensky could confirm whether he said this and in what context, but he’s rather busy now. Nykyforov’s comment — that the quote, even if not accurate, reflects the moment — shows why the line has resonated so much. Zelensky has stayed in Kyiv, earning worldwide admiration. In the news business, we aspire to accurately report who said what. But the line has become so associated with Zelensky’s valor that at this point no amount of fact-checking is likely to matter.

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