In the video, a defiant President Zelensky says ‘here we are’
KYIV, Ukraine – As Russian missiles bombed the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky went missing. Italy’s prime minister also told his own parliament in a trembling voice that Mr Zelensky had missed a planned call with him.
Later when Russian forces announced that they had cut off the city from the western part of the country and occupied strategic locations north of Kiev, the Ukrainian leader emerged with a message:
“We are here,” he said in a recorded video on Friday night, standing in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan with his top advisers. “We are in Kiev. We are defending Ukraine.”
On the second day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky stood still, and seemed to do more than find himself caught in an information war with his country’s vast neighbor.
The 44-year-old leader, who said on Thursday that his country’s intelligence services believe he is Russia’s “number one target” and his family second, said he would not back down.
“Our army is here, our civil society is here, we are all here,” he said in the video of himself holding a camera and wearing military green. “We are defending our freedom, our state, and we will continue to do so.”
Mr Zelensky also indicated an openness to diplomacy to end the war, even as he sought to rally his country. He imposed martial law and forbade 18 to 60 men from leaving so that they could be drawn into battle. From Friday night through Saturday the capital was ready for street fighting, as Russian forces closed in.
Mr. Zelensky’s government handed out 70,000 AK-47 rifles to civilians on Thursday alone, an aide told The New York Times in the video, and radio stations broadcasting instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails.
“The president will be there until the end,” said David Arkhamia, leader of Mr Zelensky’s Servants of the People party in parliament.
And so, Mr. Zelensky, a comedian who became president after a televised play, showed himself to be a determined commander in chief who was going nowhere.
He even had the audacity to take some sarcasm at Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi for publicly expressing concern. The reason for Mr. Zelensky’s phone call to be missed, said Ukrainian leader in a twitter postIt was that people were dying in heavy fighting nearby.
“Next time I’ll try to advance the war program to talk #MarioDraghi At a specific time,” Mr. Zelensky said. “In the meantime, Ukraine continues to fight for its people.”
But he had time to talk to President Biden and other European leaders, Russia and its President Vladimir V. Putin has been urged to increase sanctions and form an “anti-Putin coalition”.
Mr. Zelensky’s bravery in the face of a deadly Russian threat went unnoticed by the Biden administration. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that she was “an important partner” and “we support her.” He declined to answer questions about what steps, if any, the administration is planning to take to protect him from possible arrest by the Russians.
Mr Zelensky’s former aide, Anna Kovalenko, said his disappearance was a tactic used by the Russians to portray Zelensky as a coward, to undermine confidence in the government and make people lose hope.
“The enemy is trying to convince the people that there is no government, there is nothing left for them,” he said. “But of course there is. And he went on the air and broadcast this video, and we saw where he was, who was with him, and he was protected by the state.
Understand Russia’s attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this attack? Russia considers Ukraine to be within its natural sphere of influence, and it has been alarmed by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the possibility of the country joining NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Mr Putin, who delivered a fiery speech on Monday night against Ukraine’s government that effectively denied the former Soviet republic’s right to be independent, said on Friday that “drug and neo-Nazi gangs” have been attacked by Kiev. It was the regime, which held the people of Ukraine hostage to the country.
But many Ukrainians expressed anger at what the Kremlin was trying to do with their country’s 44 million.
“Putin made a statement that we do not exist as a people, as a nation, as a country,” Ms Kovalenko said. “Well, the whole country is protesting. In fact, Ukraine should erect a monument to Putin as he has united the nation against him,” she said, putting aside all political discord.
Mr Zelensky’s spokesman, Sergei Nikoforov, said he was still trying to negotiate with the Kremlin, which has declined to engage directly with him.
“Ukraine was and will be ready to talk about a ceasefire and peace,” Mr Nikoforov said on Facebook. “This is our permanent position.”
He said the government in Kiev had agreed to Mr Putin’s offer for talks, with both sides consulting about the negotiating process, and “the sooner the talks begin, the more likely they are to resume normal life.” will be more.”
But if the talks failed, Mr. Zelensky and his team made it clear that they would never part ways.
Late Friday, Mr Zelensky appealed to his people again in another video posted on his Telegram social media channel, warning them of difficult times to come.
“Tonight the enemy will use all his might to break our resistance,” he said. “It is disgusting, cruel and inhuman. Tonight they will storm. We all must understand what awaits us.”
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