KYIV, MARCH 5: Unshaven and wearing a military T-shirt, a haggard President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday hosted his first news conference since the war began, inviting journalists into his office building, now fortified with sandbags.
In an animated briefing, Zelensky, whose defiance has made him a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, laid out the state of negotiations with Russia, voiced pride in his people, pleaded for a no-fly zone and spoke frankly about fear of dying.
Beyond the answers Zelensky provided to questions, pulling a chair close to attending journalists, the news conference seemed intended to signal that his battered Government is at least still functioning a week into the war, despite increasingly dire conditions in Kyiv.
Zelensky said he was particularly proud of ordinary Ukrainians’ resistance to the Russian attack, a seething, angry uprising by much of society even as Russian tanks bore down on major cities and the capital.
“That is why I am so strong and so decisive”, he said. “We have a special people, an extraordinary people.” He said that no senior officials had fled the country, and several top aides turned up at the news conference.
Zelensky said he had appealed to western leaders for additional military support, including asking President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, an unlikely proposition, while also pursuing negotiations with the Russian leadership. The second of two rounds of talks with Russia in recent days took place on Thursday.
“We are ready to speak on all topics”, he said. Zelensky’s negotiator at the talks, Mykhailo Podolyak, said later on Thursday that negotiations wrapped up with an agreement on ceasefire corridors for civilians to escape heavy combat, but no progress on a settlement.
“The Russian side has long ago formed the answers to their questions”, Zelensky said. “What is the point of posing questions if you long ago have the answers? For now, this is the difficulty of this dialogue.” He said he was ready to compromise on some points, but he did not specify which, and said he would not bend on conditions threatening Ukrainian sovereignty.
“There are issues where it’s needed to find compromise, so people don’t die, and there are issues where there can be no compromise”, he said. “Well, we cannot just say, ‘here it is, it’s your country now, Ukraine is part of Russia.’ This is just impossible. So why suggest it?”
Reporters arrived at the presidential office in minivans that wove through concrete barriers and steel I-beams welded into crosses and placed on the streets to slow tanks. In the Government district of Kyiv, usually a quiet, leafy neighbourhood of offices and elegant, 19th century apartment blocks, armoured cars blocked crossroads.
The vans sped through a warren of courtyards and into a back entrance to the presidential office building. Inside the building, security officials escorted journalists by flashlight through darkened corridors filled with soldiers.
Sandbags had been stacked along the windowsills. At doorways, firing positions were in place to shoot from inside Zelensky’s office compound onto the street outside, suggesting a readiness to hold out even if street fighting reaches the site.
Zelensky thanked the reporters for turning up. “It’s best to see it with your own eyes”, he said of the city’s preparations for defence. (NYTNS)