German interpreter breaks into tears while interpreting for Zelensky

In a press conference given by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today, the Ukrainian-German interpreter couldn’t help but break into tears on live TV at the end of the president’s speech. 

Zelensky spoke to the Ukrainian people on Sunday after several cities in the country were attacked by Russian forces.

“The night was hard,” he said. “The people rose to defend their state, and they showed their true faces. This is terror.”

“They are going to bomb our Ukrainian cities even more,” he added. “They are going to kill our children even more insidiously. This is an evil that has come to our land and must be destroyed.”

As the linguist interpreted the Ukrainian into German her voice became increasingly emotional. 

Russland ist auf dem Weg des Bösen. (Russia is on the path of evil)

Russland muss ihre Stimme in UN verlieren. (Russia must lose her United Nations Vote) 

Ukraine, Wir wissen ganz genau was wir verteitigen. (Ukraine, we know full well what we are defending.)

As Zelensky ended with “Glory to Ukraine”, the interpreter could be heard breaking down in tears and apologizing to the audience. She later posted an emotional message on Twitter:

“I’m a conference interpreter, I interpret 10 hrs peace talks. But today live on German TV I couldn’t finish interpreting Zelensky, during his last words I broke into tears,” she wrote. “I love you all, my fellow Ukrainians.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the interpreting profession can be being staying impartial and objective to ensure that the communication remains solely between the speaker and listener. Although professional linguists are extensively trained in the ethical responsibility of impartiality and keeping a professional distance, it can sometimes be challenging to remain impartial in difficult conversations. That’s especially true when the news being delivered has to do with a highly emotional subject like the Russian invasion of Ukraine that took place last week.

After a weekend of intense, often tragic news out of Eastern Europe, few blamed the interpreter. Her apology on Twitter was met with an outpouring of support.  

“You interpreted with more than words,” wrote Twitter user CaliforniaHeartBavariaHome in reply. “And that was completely appropriate. Many cried with you this morning. You did not need to apologize.”

Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.


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