“Tired, but still joking”, The Economist enters Zelensky’s castle: Surrounded by snipers

“Welcome to our castle.” Tired but still joking, Ukraine’s targeted president says: “I am not a hero”

The Economist

White metal gates open, revealing fir trees and sandbags. “Welcome to the castle,” said an aide to the president. Looking around, you can see the snipers: left, right, up and down. Air defense systems, large pieces of metal, which you can easily distinguish. When the gates are closed, a soldier picks up a red vortex, a Soviet-era government safe phone, and waits for orders. We move to a side entrance, then escort us inside through the corridors and dark stairs – up, down and deep into the body of the Ukrainian war machine.

It took us almost an hour to reach the gates of the Volodymyr Zelensky complex, a journey that would normally take ten minutes. Kiev’s cobbled streets are mostly traffic-free these days, but the city’s central arteries have been reconfigured to confuse the enemy. The road winds towards the Soviet gray monolith, crossing antitank barriers, passing between people with guns and fortified checkpoints, getting better and better. We change vehicles. The nervous state of readiness in Kiev is reminiscent of February 2014, when the Russian government’s efforts to keep Ukraine under its control led to the “dignity revolution” and the death of more than 100 people.

Now the capital is again on combat bases. Inside the presidential compound, we are asked to leave phones, electronics and pens at the door – anything that can be used to identify our exact location. As we search with removable metal detectors, an office manager looks anxiously. He is one of the few people who still travels every day: “It’s scary to travel inside now, but what can you do?” Most of the other staff members have slept on the spot in the camp beds since the beginning of the war.


Walking through the darkened corridors, we suddenly find ourselves in the presidential office of Ukraine. “Office of the President of Ukraine”. For the past four weeks, as Zelensky has posted, telegraphed, and posted on Twitter, this background has become popular. A soldier with a serious look enters. “Uvaga!”: “Attention!” Ten seconds later, the president enters the office, accompanied by a handful of men with automatic weapons. Zelensky sits at the top of the table, in front of a carefully placed Ukrainian flag, and begins to speak.

President Volodymyr Zelensky with Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist, in his war room
Zelensky never wanted a war, nor did he prepare his country for war. He may quote words from Winston Churchill, but he is not Churchill. He may wear military uniform but has left the battle plans to the Ukrainian generals.

“People are leaders,” said Volodymyr Zelensky.

The man who the Ukrainian people elected as president in 2019 because of his leading role in a TV series called “Servant of the People” has become in real life a servant of his people – their representative and the embodiment of the soul of the Ukrainian nation .

Speaking to The Economist in a government building fortified with sandbags and surrounded by tanks, Zelensky has shown that he is a man of great value. So great is the real tragedy that has befallen his nation, that there is no room for acting. He talked about Ukraine’s need for weapons, his views on President Joe Biden and his other Western backers, what victory means to him.

But Zelensky has spoken more about the inhumanity of Russian commanders.

“The invaders have not shown humanity to their victims either,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. About 15,000 Russian soldiers are killed in one month. The bodies of Russian soldiers were left on the street. They are not even burying them. “In some cities, our soldiers say it is impossible to breathe because of the bad smell.”

He likens Putin’s ruthless war machine to the compassion of soldiers and volunteers defending Ukrainian cities.

“Our fearless soldiers are defending Mariupol now. They could have left a long time ago, but they are not leaving the city. After 31 days of bombing and siege, they are still fighting – not because I ordered them, but because they think they should stay and bury the fallen soldiers and save the lives of the wounded. And as long as people are still alive, we must continue to protect them. “And this is the fundamental change in the way the opposing parties in this war see the world.”

Putin and Zelensky are both native Russian speakers, but they speak a different language of power.

“I do not think he visualizes in his mind the same Ukraine we see,” Zelensky said. “He sees Ukraine as part of his world, his worldview, but that does not correspond to what has happened in the last 30 years. “I do not think Putin has been in a bunker for two weeks or six months, but for more than two decades.”

For Putin, force means violence. Anyone who is evil to shed blood is weak. This explains why the Russian military is using the same methods in the occupied territory it used in Donbas in 2014.

“They are kidnapping the mayors of our cities,” Zelensky said. “They killed some of them. Some of them we can not find. We have already found some of them, and they are dead. “They are the same people who are carrying out the same operations.”

But if weakness means humanity, then it is this weakness that makes Zelensky strong and that is why the Ukrainian flag still flies over Whitehall and Pennsylvania Avenue.

He is celebrating how Ukrainians are stopping tanks from entering Russian cities, as they did in Kherson, one of the cities now occupied by Russian forces.

“They decided to stand up and do it of their own free will. “I could not have ordered them not to do so,” he said. “I will be close to my people until the end.” “We believe in victory. We will definitely win because this is our home, our land, our independence. It is simply a matter of time. However, victory depends not only on the fighting spirit of the Ukrainians, but also on the support of the West. If Ukraine is to defend its way of life, it needs tanks, armored personnel carriers and military aircraft; and it needs it now. said Zelensky.

“The West can not tell us that we will help you in the coming weeks,” he said, adding that “such a move would not help them take control of Russian-occupied cities or send humanitarian aid there.”

And no matter how strong the spirit of the Ukrainian people, Russia has more military means.

Zelensky has divided NATO into five camps. First are those who have no problem with the war continuing for a long time, because that would mean the exhaustion of Russia, even if it means the destruction of Ukraine.

Some others want the war to end because Russia’s market is large and their economies are suffering huge losses. A third, more diverse group wants Ukraine to win. This includes liberal countries, which think that people are the first.

And the last are the embarrassed countries that are already seeking peace at all costs and it is about the “offices of the Russian Federation in Europe”.

Zelensky has shown great appreciation to America and Britain. Although he notes that the complexity of American policy has sometimes caused delays, he said Biden is more engaged than ever in the Ukraine war. But Germany, he said, is trying to strike a balance between Russia and Ukraine.

“They have a long-standing relationship with Russia and are assessing the situation through an economic prism,” he said.

Asked why leaders like President Emmanuel Macron are not supplying tanks to Ukraine to help Ukraine win, he said “they are afraid of Russia”. Zelensky is equally irritated by the nature of sanctions to punish Russia. Existing sanctions have shortcomings.

The largest Russian bank, Sberbank, for example, has not disconnected from the SWIFT payment system because it is one of the main ways Europe pays for its gas. An oil and gas embargo has also been discussed, but so far has not been implemented by Europe, although America has ordered one.

“The first thing you need to do is put yourself in our place and act. I have heard that the decision will depend on whether Russia will use chemical weapons in our direction, but this is not the right approach. “We are not an experiment.”

Asked how the Ukrainian president thinks Ukraine’s victory will look like, he said everyone has their own version of victory and defeat. For Putin, victory is about destroying Ukraine and killing people who are sacrificing their lives for the state, ideology or religion.

“Victory means to save as many lives as possible, because without life nothing would make sense. “Our land is important, yes, but in the end, it is just territory.” “To save everyone, to protect all interests by protecting people and not to give up your country is probably an impossible task,” he said.

Zelensky does not know when and how the war will end, but he knows that everyone will stay in Ukraine to defend their country. No one knows for sure where Putin was when his army invaded Ukraine. But Zelensky was at home with his wife and two children. They were the ones who woke up early on February 24th.

“I was told that loud explosions were heard. “After a few minutes, I received the news that Russian forces were attacking with rockets.” Immediately after Russia launched the attack on Ukraine, the US offered him the opportunity to leave, but he chose to stay.

“My decision is not about being brave,” he said. “I have to act as I know how.” “If you do not know how to do something this way or that way, just be honest and that. You have to be honest in order for people to trust you.


You have to be yourself. In Putin’s world, honesty is a weakness. His power is based on secrets and deceptions. “Mystery and violence nurture his cult of authority.”

Zelensky may be sticking to what his assistants call a castle, but his strength lies in his ability to hear and reflect what people want from him. He is the strength of every human being.

Vasily Grossman, a Soviet novelist and war correspondent born in the small Jewish town of Berdychev in northern Ukraine, writes in his novel about World War II, Life and Fate, that human history is not the battle of a good war. , to defeat evil, but it is a battle waged by a great evil that fights to crush a small nucleus of human goodness.

But if humanity in human beings is not destroyed even now, then evil will never win.

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