Battle-hardened Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has shrugged off repeated Russian attempts to assassinate him as no worse than a bout of COVID.
The lionhearted leader said at least “five or six” plots to kill him had been foiled by Ukraine’s intelligence services.
In a world-exclusive interview, Zelensky also said the will of Ukraine to defeat Vladimir Putin’s Russia remained strong — and “in the morale, there is no stalemate.”
He said his people were tired of “permanent air raids,” tired of being shelled, tired of having their homes destroyed and their loved ones killed. But he added: “If you ask them are you willing to give up to Russia, our lands? Are you ready to talk to Russians on how to end all this? Are you ready for compromise, personally, with Putin and are you tired of this?
“They will tell you we are not tired. We are ready to stand further.”
‘First one is interesting’
Speaking at his fortress Kyiv headquarters, Zelensky admitted he had lost track of all the attempts to kill him since Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
He said: “The first one is very interesting, when it is the first time, and after that it is just like COVID.
“First of all, people don’t know what to do with it and it’s looking very scary.
“And then after that, it is just intelligence just sharing with you detail that one more group came to Ukraine to [attempt] this.”
Russian special forces parachuted into Kyiv to kill him on the first day of Putin’s invasion.
His bodyguards sealed off his office with makeshift barricades and bits of plywood.
Zelensky and his closest aides were issued rifles and body armor.
One said the office was like a “madhouse.”
But when British and US officials offered to spirit the president out of the capital — amid fears it could fall within hours — he replied with the legendary line: “I need ammo, not a ride.”
Later, as battles raged outside Kyiv, Zelensky walked outside the compound to film a defiant selfie video that rallied Ukraine’s resistance by proving he was still in the capital.
‘Operation: Maidan 3’
Almost two years later, Zelensky said Russia still “wants very much” to topple him from power.
He even knows the code name of their latest mission to oust him and its deadline is the end of the year.
He said: “The name of operation is Maidan 3.
“It is meant to change the president. It’s bye-bye.
“Maybe it’s not by killing. I mean it’s changing. They will use any instruments they have.”
He ruled out holding elections due to take place next year insisting it was illegal under martial law, impossible due to the war and would divide the country when people were focused on fighting Russia.
Wearing a trademark sweatshirt emblazoned with the trident symbol of Ukraine, he admitted his country’s counterpunch this year had not gone as well as he hoped.
Troops in a major counter-offensive advanced only 10 miles in five months.
He acknowledged the lack of progress had discouraged some allies who doubt whether Ukraine can expel Russian forces.
And he admitted: “We need more successful results on the battlefield.”
But he denied his top general’s claims that the war had reached a stalemate.
He said: “In the morale, there is no stalemate.
“We are at our home. Russians are on our land. Therefore there is no stalemate in this.
“As regards the sky, there is no stalemate. Russians have more power in that.
“And really, how to move forward when you can’t control the sky?”
The US Congress has also blocked plans for $60 billion in aid amid Republican claims the war in Ukraine would become a “forever war.”
Black Sea successes
But Zelensky vowed to fight on and insisted the war was “not a movie.”
And he said the lack of progress on land was balanced by successes in the Black Sea, which he said was also part of the counter-offensive.
A series of missile and drone strikes on Russian warships forced Putin to withdraw his Black Sea fleet eastwards and allowed Ukraine to open a grain export corridor that hugs the sea’s western shore.
Zelensky said: “We really destroyed part of the Russian fleet.
“We did it. We moved them. They don’t have such total influence on the Black Sea region.”
He admitted people were weary of war but said there was no appetite to sue for peace.
He added: “We do not believe that Putin nor Russia, we do not believe that they want to finish the war.
“They want to kill us. And we want justice. Therefore, we are not speaking about peace at any price.
“We are talking about a just peace, for it is very important when we are speaking about weariness, where does it come from.
“Is it difficult on the battlefield? Yes. But making friends or entering diplomatic table now with Russia? No!”
Jerome Starkey is the UK Sun’s defense editor.
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