Arnold Schwarzenegger makes plea to Putin, Russia amid Ukraine invasion

Former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger is speaking out against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, making a plea to Russia's government, military and people to put a stop to the violence.

In a nine-minute video shared Thursday to Twitter, Schwarzenegger spoke of his appreciation for the people of Russia and wanted to clear up any misinformation by sharing "the truth" of why Russia invaded Ukraine. 

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"The strength and the heart of the Russian people have always inspired me," he said. "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." 

Schwarzenegger recalled his father getting angry when he hung a picture of Yuri Petrovich Vlasov, a champion weighlifter from Russia, in his room.

"My father told me to take down the picture and to find a German or Austrian hero," he said. "But I did not take down the photograph, because it didn't matter to me what flag Yuri Vlasov carried." 

Schwarzenegger denied claims from the Russian government that the purpose of their invasion was to "denazify Ukraine."

"To the soldiers who are listening to this, remember that 11 million Russians have family connections to Ukraine – so every bullet you shoot, you shoot a brother or a sister. … And to President Putin, I say: You started this war. You are leading this war. You can stop this war." 

Schwarzenegger ended the video with a final message for the Russians, "To all of the Russians who have been protesting in the streets against the invasion of Ukraine: the world has seen your bravery. "We know you have suffered the consequences of your courage. You have been arrested, you have been jailed and you have been beaten. You are my new heroes. ... You have the true heart of Russia."

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its fourth week on Thursday, with Russian forces largely bogged down outside major cities and shelling them from a distance, raining havoc on civilians.

A Russian airstrike just before dawn Thursday killed 21 people and destroyed a school and community center in Merefa, near the northeast city of Kharkiv, officials said.

The fighting has led more than 3 million people to flee Ukraine, the U.N. estimates. The death toll remains unknown, though Ukraine has said thousands of civilians have died.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.