Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday told European leaders on a conference call that it “might be the last time you see me alive” as the Russian military pushes ahead with its offensive in his country.
Israel’s Walla News reported the news, citing a European diplomat familiar with the call. The news site also reported that the prime minister of Sweden said to leaders, “It may have been the last time that we’ll see him.”
Zelensky on Thursday said in a video address he would remain in Kyiv and would keep his family in Ukraine.
“I stay in the capital, I stay with my people. During the day, I held dozens of international talks, directly managed our country. And I will stay in the capital,” Zelensky said. “My family is also in Ukraine. My children are also in Ukraine. My family is not traitors. They are the citizens of Ukraine. But I have no right to say where they are now.”
Zelensky elaborated, adding that “the enemy marked me as the number one target,” with his family being number two.
Russia’s conflict with Ukraine has been rumbling for years but escalated dramatically in recent weeks.
Russia assembled vast numbers of troops around Ukraine — as many as 190,000, per US estimates — in the largest military operation in the region since World War II.
On Monday, Putin recognized the claims to independence of the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk areas of Ukraine, ordering troops there for what he described as a limited peace-keeping operation in the east of the country.
Less than 72 hours later, Putin authorized a full-scale attack on Ukraine. In the hours that followed, explosions pounded cities around Ukraine, many hundreds of miles from the previous conflict zone.
Ukrainian officials reported fighting on its borders with Russia, and hundreds of casualties. The new wave of hostilities expanded the clash from a limited incursion over disputed land into the most serious armed conflict in Europe for at least a decade.