Chilling new details have emerged about how close Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came to being captured or killed by the Russians — who parachuted teams of hitmen into Kyiv in the early hours of the invasion, a new report says.
Ukrainian military officials had warned their 44-year-old leader, a former comedian, that enemy strike teams were known to have arrived in the capital within hours of the invasion to hunt down him and his family, authorities told Time.
“Before that night, we had only ever seen such things in the movies,” Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told the news mag.
But Zelensky refused to flee, despite the warnings that he was the Kremlin’s No. 1 target to be captured or killed.
As scores of Ukrainian soldiers fought gun battles with invading troops in the streets, others tried to seal the presidential compound — even using junkyard scrapes as well as police barricades to seal gates.
“The place was wide open,” recalled Oleksiy Arestovych, a veteran of Ukraine’s military intelligence service. “We didn’t even have concrete blocks to close the street.”
By the first night, gunfights grew closer to the government quarter — with Zelensky and about a dozen of his aides handed bulletproof vests and assault rifles, officials recounted to Time.
Russian paratrooper hitmen reportedly arrived in Kyiv to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky within hours of the invasion beginning. Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images
“It was an absolute madhouse. … Automatics for everyone,” Arestovych told the magazine.
Russian troops made at least two attempts to storm the compound — all while the president’s wife and their kids, a 9-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter, remained there, Zelensky told Time.
Yet still, the president refused to budge despite requests to do so by his bodyguards, as well as offers from both US and British forces to evacuate him so he could set up a government in exile.
It was then that he gave his now-famous putdown to the US, saying, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Video footage of Zelensky speaking in Kyiv on Feb. 25, 2022 shortly after the Russian invasion began.Photo by -/FACEBOOK / @Volodymyr Zelensky/AFP via Getty Images
A US official briefed on the comment told Time, “We thought that was brave. … But very risky.”
Zelensky had not only refused to leave, he even made a show of going out in the streets to film a defiant video with his closest advisers — not far from where his military was fighting the Russian invaders, Ukrainian officials told Time.
“We’re all here,” Zelensky said in the clip he shared on social media.
He also later filmed himself inside his presidential offices, saying, “Not hiding, and I’m not afraid of anyone.”
Zelensky famously declined offers to be evacuated from Ukraine as Russia invaded.Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
He has since survived more than a dozen assassination attempts, one of his top advisers has said.
Zelensky told Time that he has “gotten older” during the war.
“I’ve aged from all this wisdom that I never wanted. It’s the wisdom tied to the number of people who have died and the torture the Russian soldiers perpetrated. That kind of wisdom,” he said.
“To be honest, I never had the goal of attaining knowledge like that.”
Still, asked if he regretted ever running for president, he insisted, “Not for a second.”