Advisors to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy were concerned that Russian forces advancing on Kyiv in the early days of the invasion might try to kill him, potentially using deadly gas, according to a new Washington Post report.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a military advisor to Zelenskyy, told the Post the Ukrainian leader was warned by the presidential guard that his office was a “target” and urged him to move to a location outside of Kyiv.
Arestovych, who was among those to urge Zelenskyy to leave Kyiv during the initial stages of the Russian invasion, said that even a Soviet-era bunker that the Ukrainian leader had used for shelter wasn’t safe.
There was talk of them barricading the exits and releasing gas,” Arestovych said of the approaching Russian forces.
These concerns came as Moscow pushed bogus claims that Ukraine was led by Nazis, justifying the invasion along these lines and other dubious assertions. Zelenskyy is Ukraine’s first Jewish president, and his family lost people during the Holocaust.
Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, also warned Zelenskyy of credible information pointing to a plan to kill or capture him, the Post reported. He told Zelenskyy that he needed to make sure anyone near him with a weapon was well known and loyal.
Zelenskyy made it no secret that his life could be in danger in the days that followed the Russian invasion.
In a call with European leaders in late February, he said, This may be the last time you see me alive.
But despite warnings that his life was in danger and fears that the Ukrainian capital would quickly fall, Zelenskyy ultimately refused to leave Kyiv a move that was applauded around the world.
The Ukrainian leader is now famous for the line the fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.
Zelenskyy, the Post reported, said that if leaving would stop the bloodshed, then he would have left, but he believed that would not have been the case and that his departure would have hurt morale and risked Ukraine’s immediate capitulation to Russia.
Instead, Russia failed to take Kyiv, after making a number of miscalculations and facing a far stiffer resistance from Ukraine than it expected.
Wednesday marks six months since the Russian invasion, and the conflict has morphed into a grinding war of attrition, with heavy losses on both sides.