Russian troops came close to capturing Zelensky and his family at the start of the invasion.

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It seems that the capture of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was one of the objectives of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, during the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian troops tried to penetrate the presidential residence, in the center of Kyiv, on at least two occasions, when the president, a former actor and now a leader of the Ukrainian resistance, and his family were inside.

These are revelations that Zelenski himself has made to the journalist of the magazine Time Simon Shuster, who has lived fifteen days with the Ukrainian president. In the extensive report, Zelenski describes the first hours of the invasion. Although his memories are “fragmented”, he says, the early morning of February 24 has remained etched in his memory

Cover of ‘Time’ magazine with the face of the Ukrainian president, under the title: ‘As Zelenski leads’

Time

After the first shelling in Kyiv, which was heard before sunrise; he and his wife, Olena Zelenska, went to wake his 17-year-old daughter and his nine-year-old son to prepare to flee. “There was a lot of noise, there were explosions,” Zelensky recalls. They soon realized that the capital was not a safe place to stay.

The Ukrainian military informed the president that Russian soldiers had parachuted into Kyiv to kill or capture him and his family. “Before that night, we had only seen things like that in the movies,” the president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told the magazine.


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LV_ Zelensky:

As night fell on the first day of the war, shootings broke out around the government quarter. Friends and allies had flocked to Bankova Street to support Zelensky. “Guards inside the compound turned off the lights and brought bulletproof vests and assault rifles for Zelensky and at least a dozen of his aides,” Shuster writes.

Only a few of them knew how to handle a weapon. One was Oleksi Arestovich, a veteran of Ukraine’s military intelligence service. “It was an absolute madhouse,” Arestovich tells the journalist. “Automatic for everyone,” he adds. The Russians tried twice, the journalist writes from Zelensky’s account. They failed.


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LV_This is the makeshift field hospital at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol

At the same time, offers came from the American and British forces to evacuate the president and his team in order to establish a government in exile. But Zelensky rejected them all: “I need ammunition, not a trip,” he told the Americans. He too refused to hide in a bunker far from the capital. The residence on Bankova Street was not secure; it is surrounded by buildings that would serve as perfect hiding places for snipers, and located at the same distance as the range of a grenade.

Russian troops came close to capturing Zelensky and his family at the start of the invasion.
Video

Zelensky shares a video on the street surrounded by his advisers: “We are in kyiv”


Rather than seek shelter, on the second night of the invasion, as Ukrainian forces battled Russians in nearby streets, the president decided to go out into the courtyard and shoot a video message on his phone that would become iconic. Zelenski, dressed in the military green shirt that he wears in almost all of his public appearances, affirmed with his cabinet colleagues that they would not leave Kyiv.

By then, Zelensky had already understood that his role in this war was to lead the Ukrainian resistance from within, bravely, even if it got on the nerves of his bodyguards. And send a message to the world. “You understand what they’re looking at,” he tells the reporter. “You’re a symbol. You must act the way the head of state should act,” he concludes.

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