In the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the building of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensk was one of the main targets of Russian forces. So much so that while the president’s wife and two children were still in the building, Russian troops made two attempts to attack the complex.
As night came, dozens of shots were heard from the streets surrounding the building. The guards turned off all the lights and brought out bulletproof vests and guns for Zelensky and about a dozen of his assistants. One of the only people who knew how to handle the gun was Oleksi Arestovich, a veteran of Ukrainian military intelligence, who told the newspaper on Thursday. Team, the first hours of the war. “It was complete madness. Automatic weapons for everyone.”
The president himself told the newspaper about the first feelings of the attack and says he has “scattered memories” of that day. One of the moments he remembers best happened just before sunrise on February 24, the first day of the war. Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska had to tell their 17- and 9-year-olds that the bombings had begun and that Russia had indeed attacked Ukraine. “We woke them up. There was a lot of noise. There were explosions nearby.”
After the army informed the president that several Russian soldiers had parachuted into Kiev to kill or arrest him and his family, it was concluded that the president’s offices were no longer a safe place. “Before that night, we had only seen these things in movies,” says Andriy Yermak, the president’s chief of staff. Team.
The president’s advisers who heard for the article say that when the Americans and the British offered to pull Zelensk out of Ukraine and advised him – and even offered to help – form a refugee government so he could coordinate from afar, none of those offers were seriously considered. Zelensky said at the time of the famous phrase “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
The president also refused to go a bunker which was manufactured outside the borders of the Ukrainian capital, outside a place considered safe. Instead, on the second night of the attack, when Ukrainian troops fought against the Russians nearby, the president decided to go out into the yard of the building and record a video message on his cell phone. “We’re all here,” Zelensky said, citing several names of government officials on his side. “We are defending our independence and our country.”
Zelensky tells the newspaper that then he understood his role in the war. “You understand that everyone is watching. You are a symbol. You have to act as the head of state should act,” he says.
Mandatory isolation forced Zelensky’s team to watch the war on screen, but it took a few days before the president wanted to go in person to see what was happening on the streets. In early March, while the Russians were still bombing Kiev and trying to control the capital, the president secretly left the building with two friends and a small bodyguard.
“We made the decision at a moment’s notice,” says Yermak, the president’s chief of staff, adding that there was no time to witness the cameras and that some of Zelensky’s closest assistants only found out about the trip nearly two months later when the president mentioned the interview. Team.