Comic-turned-hero Volodymyr Zelensky has survived at least three precision assassination attempts by elite hit squads since Russia’s week-old war began, according to Ukrainian officials who say his survival was all thanks to tip-offs from Russian spies.
Both the Kremlin-funded Wagner group mercenaries and Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov’s kill teams have allegedly tried to kill the Ukrainian president, who is hiding out in various bunkers deep below the capital Kyiv, according to the Washington Post. The Wagner mercenaries—run by Yevgeny Prigozhin A.K.A. “Putin’s chef”—reportedly have a kill list of 24 names, including Zelensky, but were waylaid by the stalled military convoy outside of Kyiv that made it difficult for Russian special forces to secure an escape route, according to the Times of London.
Ukrainian national security chief Oleksiy Danilov told a Ukrainian television network that double agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service or FSB warned them of the attempts. “I can say that we have received information from the FSB, who do not want to take part in this bloody war,” Danilov said. “And thanks to this, the Kadyrov elite group was destroyed, which came here to eliminate our president.”
Still, as President Putin’s brutal battle rages on, Zelensky’s stoic resistance has lofted him to cult status, undoubtedly angering Putin whose inferiority complex seems to be tipping towards psychosis. Zelensky is now even pleading to Putin to meet face-to-face— which may seem like a death wish—but which is unlikely to happen. “I don’t bite,” Zelensky said in a statement to Putin. “What are you afraid of?”
Early Friday morning, as Europe’s largest nuclear power plant smoldered under a Russian attack that turned into occupation, Zelensky made an emotional plea in a video statement accusing Russia of edging ever closer to nuclear war. “If there is an explosion, that’s the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe,” he said as world leaders reacted with shock and dismay. “Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops. Do not allow the death of Europe from a catastrophe at a nuclear power station.”
Zelensky added, “No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units. This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror,” he said. “The Russian tanks knew that they were firing with a direct fire at the station.” The Russian military instead claimed that it was Ukrainian forces guarding the plant who fired first, provoking return fire.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg condemned the nuclear plant attack. “This just demonstrates the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it and the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops and engaging good faith in diplomatic efforts,” he said Friday morning as leaders called for an emergency meeting in response to the latest wave of aggression.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry warned that if the Zaporizhzhya plant melted down, it would be ten times larger than the Chernobyl disaster, which is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.
As fighting raged on across the country, Ukraine’s cultural minister ordered workers to wrap up statues and try to shore up ancient basilicas in Kyiv and Lviv, as they braced for more missiles. “Russia’s missiles and planes are deliberately destroying historic centers of big cities. Putin wants to destroy Europe's heritage and culture, wipe it from the face of the earth,” the cultural ministry said in a statement Friday. “A mad dictator threatens to destroy St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, a UNESCO church built in the 11th century.”
A fierce battle was also underway in the strategic port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine on Friday with a constant bombardment as Russian troops encircle the city. In Zhytomyr in the north, a school was destroyed by a missile, causing it to collapse, according to CNN.
NATO continues to resist Zelensky’s pleas for a no-fly zone over the country, worried that shooting down Russian jets to enforce it would only give Putin more reason to attack, potentially responding with Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. “NATO will defend all its allies and territory against a Russian attack,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at NATO headquarters in Brussels Friday. “Ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it and we will defend every inch of NATO territory.” Ukraine, of course, is not yet part of that territory.
Negotiations on Thursday led to Russia promising a limited humanitarian corridor to get supplies in and civilians out, but Zelensky on Friday expressed little faith that Russia would hold up their end of the deal. “Today we will see if the agreement works,” Zelensky said, clearly unconvinced.