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Sandbags and soldiers as Ukraine leader gives interview under siege

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By Aleksandar Vasovic

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has often done away with the trappings of office in his dealings with the media – offering access to reporters who beat him at table tennis and holding lengthy peacetime press conferences in a food court.

On Tuesday afternoon, the extraordinary circumstances of his interview with Reuters and CNN were by necessity, not choice.

There was nothing playful about the former comic actor’s message, and no theatrics in the unusual surroundings away from the imposing Bankova presidential building in the middle of the historic city of Kyiv.

Reuters reporters were driven to the venue in the capital in a van. The building appeared to be a non-descript, Soviet-era administrative office teeming with mostly young, heavily armed soldiers.

Sandbags blocked the bottom of windows, the blinds were pulled down and the bright lamps from television crews shone through the gloom. A Ukrainian flag and presidential standard were moved closer so they would appear in the background.

Zelenskiy and his entourage appeared along a corridor, and, after greeting journalists with a handshake and a smile, he stood on the first step of a small flight of marble stairs to deliver his message.

Unshaven and tired, but impassioned and gesticulating throughout, the 44-year-old urged the international community to do more to support Ukraine.

He wore an olive-coloured T-shirt, trousers and combat shoes, just as he has done throughout his social media appearances since the invasion began seven days ago.

This was a president at war, convinced he was the number one target of invading Russian forces that are encroaching on the capital. Asked about his daily regime, he replied: “I work and I sleep.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the “special military operation” last Thursday in a bid to disarm Ukraine, capture undesirable elements he says are running the country of 44 million and crush its hopes of closer ties to the West.

Mostly business-like and defiant, emotion did show through as Zelenskiy addressed the plight of Ukraine and its younger generation, and the fact that he had not seen his own children for two days.

Asked how long his country would hold out, Zelenskiy replied: “We do not hold out, we fight, and our nation will fight to the end. This is our home, we are protecting out land, our homes. For the sake of our children’s future.”

(Writing by Mike Collett-White)


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