Film icon Arnold Schwarzenegger told Russians in a video posted on social media on Thursday they're being lied to about the war in Ukraine and accused President Vladimir Putin of sacrificing Russian soldiers' lives for his own ambitions.
Schwarzenegger is hugely popular in Russia, and apparently also with Putin. The President of Russia Twitter account follows only 22 accounts – one of them the actor's.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken out amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday (17 March), the Hollywood actor shared a nine-minute video in which urged Russian citizens and military members to hear “the truth” and attempted to dispel misinformation from the Russian government that the purpose of their invasion was to “denazify Ukraine”.
In the nine-minute video, Schwarzenegger said Russian soldiers were told they’d be fighting Nazis in Ukraine, or to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine or that were going on military exercises, and that they’d be greeted like heroes. He said many of the troops now know those claims were false.
"This is an illegal war,” Schwarzenegger said, looking straight into the camera while seated at a desk in a study. "Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.”
Schwarzenegger posted his emotional video on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. While some of those services are blocked in Russia, he also posted it on the Telegram messaging app – which is not – where it got more than a half-million views. It was subtitled in Russian.
The actor, 74, said: “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 and what is happening there.
“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.”
The bodybuilder told an anecdote about his admiration for Yuri Petrovich Vlasov, a champion weightlifter from Russia.
He described how his father Gustav Schwarzenegger, a member of the Nazi party who served in the Second World War, told him to take down a poster of Vlasov that was in his room and “find a German or Austrian hero” instead.
He said: “But I did not take down the photograph, because it didn’t matter to me what flag Yuri Vlasov carried.”
The former California governor brought up painful memories about how his own father was lied to as he fought with Adolf Hitler’s forces during World War II, and how he returned to Austria a broken man, physically and emotionally after being wounded at Leningrad.
Schwarzenegger added: “[My father] was injured at Leningrad and the Nazi army he was part of did vicious harm to the great city and to its brave people.
“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 lived the rest of his life in pain. Pain from a broken back, pain from the shrapnel that always reminded him of those terrible years. And pain from the guilt that he felt.
He asked Russians to let their fellow citizens know about "the human catastrophe that is happening in Ukraine.” The video showed bombed out buildings in Ukraine and people coming under Russian shelling.
“To the Russian soldiers listening to this broadcast, you already know much of the truth that I’m speaking. You’ve seen it in your own eyes. I don’t want you to be broken like my father.”
He then addressed Putin directly, saying: "You started this war. You are leading this war. You can stop this war.”
Schwarzenegger described his long ties to Russia, having travelled there as a body builder and film action hero. In 2010, as California governor, he led a delegation of Silicon Valley business leaders and venture capitalists on a trip to Moscow.
He called all the Russians who have been in the streets protesting the invasion of Ukraine, and who have been arrested and manhandled, "my new heroes.”
Schwarzenegger’s post also included videos and images of refugees attempting to escape Ukraine, and families making their tearful goodbyes.
An adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, who works to disseminate information about the course of the war, urged Ukrainians to share the video with friends and relatives in Russia.
"Putin and his propagandists call us Ukrainians fascists and Nazis,” the adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, said on Telegram. "But their propaganda is blown to smithereens when super famous people all over the world speak with one voice: ‘No to war!’”
Gerashchenko has more than 385,000 subscribers to his channel on Telegram. He included a link to a version of Schwarzenegger’s video with a Russian voiceover that he posted on his YouTube channel.
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