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, the President 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 theirdestroyed 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.”
On the attempts to topple him, Mr Zelensky said the first plot caused a panic — like the first outbreak of Covid. But after that they were not so bad.
Speaking to The Sun at his fortress Kyiv headquarters, Mr Zelensky admitted he had lost track of all the attempts to kill him since Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion on February 24 last year.
The President 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 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 last year.
Mr Zelensky’s bodyguards sealed off his office with makeshift barricades and bits of plywood.
His closest aides were issued with rifles and body armour. One saidwas 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 around Kyiv, Zelensky walked outside the compound toa defiant selfie video that rallied Ukraine’s resistance by proving he was still in the capital.
Almost two years later, Zelensky said Russia still “wants very much” to topple him from.
He even knows the codename of their latest mission to oust him and itsis the end of the year.
The leader 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.
“So that’s the idea, to the end of the year. They have even named the operation. But you see we can live with it.”
Mr Zelensky ruled out holding elections that had been due to take placeyear, insisting it was illegal under martial law, impossible because of the war and would divide the country when people were focused on fighting Russia.
In August Ukraine’s intelligence service — the SBU — said it had foiled a plot to kill Mr Zelensky with an air strike on the southern city of Mykolaiv.
The SBU said it arrested a woman accused of passing details of his visit to Russia.
One of Mr Zelensky’s aides said at least a dozen attempts had been made on his life within the first few weeks of the war.
But when The Sun asked precisely how many plots he survived, he admitted: “I really don’t know.”
And he refused to be drawn on whether or not Ukraine had carried out its own assassinations in reply.
A number of pro-Russian collaborators have been killed or injured by car bombs and booby traps believed to be the work of Ukrainian special forces and partisans.
Mr Zelensky said: “I can’t discuss with you any special operations of Ukrainian intelligence or Secret Service or of some special forces.
“There are some moments which we are not discussing.
“Not only inside Russia, there are things we are not discussing on our temporarily occupied territories.”
Pressed on if Ukraine would take a chance to kill despot Putin if an opportunity arose, Mr Zelensky said: “That’s war, and Ukraine has all the rights to defend our land.”
We went through multiple layers of airport style security — even surrendering our pens — to meet Mr Zelensky in his office.
Many of the windows were blocked up with sandbags and a number of long, high-ceilinged corridors were kept in darkness for security, his aides said.
Wearing a trademark sweatshirt emblazoned with the trident symbol of Ukraine, Mr Zelensky admitted his country’s fightback this year had not gone as well as he hoped.
Troops in a major counter- offensive advanced only ten miles in five months.
He acknowledged the lack of progress had discouraged some allies who doubt if 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, 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 £48billion in aid amid Republican claims the war in Ukraine could become a “forever war”.
But Mr 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 part of the counter-offensive.
A series of missile and drone strikes on Russian warships forced Putin to withdraw his Black Sea fleet eastwards, allowing Ukraine to open a grain export corridor that hugs the sea’s western shore.
Mr 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!”
To watch The Sun’s full interview with Zelensky, click here.
THANKS TO OUR TEAMS
Zelensky with News Corp & Fox Corp team
By Jerome Starkey
PRESIDENT Zelensky thanked reporters for their bravery after inviting Lachlan Murdoch, the Chief Executive Officer of Fox Corp and the Chairman of News Corp, to visit Ukraine.
Mr Murdoch took with him a journalist from each company — Benjamin Hall of Fox News and Jerome Starkey, Defence Editor of The Sun.
In a press release Mr Zelensky “thanked the representatives of the media group for comprehensive coverage of Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression and for telling about Russian atrocities despite the risks to themselves”.
Last March, a group of Fox News journalists came under Russian fire in Horenka, outside Kyiv. Cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian fixer Oleksandra Kuvshynova were killed.
Brit Benjamin Hall was severely wounded, losing part of a leg on one side and a foot on the other and left with limited function of a hand and one eye.
President Zelensky awarded him the Order of Merit, III class, for his “outstanding personal contribution to strengthening interstate co-operation, support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity”.
It was his first visit to Ukraine since he was catastrophically injured.
The President thanked Mr Murdoch for his visit and “emphasised that it is a very important signal of support at the time when the world’s attention is blurred by other events”.
Jerome, The Sun’s award-winning Defence Editor, has reported from the Ukraine front line since the war started.
Mr Zelensky said: “All this time, journalists, cameramen, editors, photographers, drivers have been on the front line.
“It is thanks to journalists from many countries that we now have such support in the world.”