The US government offered to evacuate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from Kyiv — but he declined.
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” Zelensky said, The Associated Press reported, citing a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation.
Zelensky, 44, instead chose to remain in Ukraine’s capital as Russian forces brought the fight to the city streets, where gunfire and explosions were heard overnight Friday into Saturday.
The besieged president said his family had been evacuated to safety.
“I am staying in the government quarters together with others,” Zelensky said in a video address early on Friday. “The enemy has designated me as target number one, and my family as target number two.”
Zelensky addressed his countrymen again on Friday night, telling them to brace for an overnight assault and urging unity and strength.
“The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now,” Zelensky said in the video. “This night will be very difficult, and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians.”
“We can’t lose the capital,” he added, emphatically.
Zelensky, a former actor and comedian, has lead a considerable defense against the Russian incursion so far, slowing down the Russian advance, according to US defense officials. However, there is concern that could change quickly.
Russian troops attacked Kyiv from several directions, encircling the city of about 2.8 million.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces said “active combat” was taking place in Kyiv, as Russian forces tried to push toward the city center and faced heavy resistance from Ukrainian fighters.
Hundreds of casualties have been reported following intense fighting both within and around the city, however the Ukrainian forces appeared to have held onto the capital as of early Saturday, according to officials.
“We are stopping the horde as best as we can, the situation in Kyiv is under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and our citizens,” Security Council Secretary Danilov said on Saturday morning, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Zelensky also posted another video address from Kyiv on Saturday morning, in which he vowed to defend his country.
“There’s a lot of fake information online that I call on our army to lay down arms, and that there’s evacuation,” he said, according to a translation by the Kyiv Independent.
“I’m here. We won’t lay down our arms. We will defend our state.”
With Post wires