A close adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy has revealed how the Ukrainian president refused to be evacuated from Kyiv even as Russian assassination squads tried to storm the capital to kill him.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a veteran of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, told Time that as the president’s HQ came under attack at the start of the invasion, those inside defended themselves with automatic weapons and built rudimentary defences.
Describing the scene, Arestovych said: “It was an absolute madhouse. Automatics for everyone. The place was wide open. We didn’t even have concrete blocks to close the street.”
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
The military then “informed Zelenskyy that Russian strike teams had parachuted into Kyiv to kill or capture him and his family”, the magazine said. Both UK and US forces then “offered to evacuate Zelenskyy and allow him to set up a government in exile”, The Telegraph reported. “But he never seriously thought about it.”
Explaining his decision not to flee, Zelenskyy told Time that he was sending a message to the people of Ukraine. “You understand that they’re watching,” he said. “You’re a symbol. You need to act the way the head of state must act.”
In the early days of the invasion, the president would wake before dawn and have his first meeting with his top general at 5am, “before the light began peeking through the sandbags in the windows of the compound”, Time reported.
As the war progressed, it then became “typical for the president and his staff to gather around a phone or laptop in the bunker”, the magazine added, “cursing images of devastation or cheering a drone strike on a Russian tank”.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.