Putin will renew attacks on ‘symbolic’ Kyiv, says city mayor Vitali Klitschko

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Russian forces are likely to renew their attacks on Ukraine’s capital city if they succeed in their fresh offensive in the east of the country, the mayor of Kyiv said.

Vitali Klitschko said President Vladimir Putin was unlikely to be satisfied with victory in the Donbas region, where Russia has redeployed the bulk of its forces to seize territory and inflict a crushing blow on Ukraine’s army.

“Putin likes symbols . . . from the beginning Kyiv [has been] a symbol of an independent Ukraine,” the former heavyweight boxing champion said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Klitschko, elected Kyiv mayor in 2014, said he did not want inhabitants who fled the capital to return, given the risks from Russian artillery and unexploded munitions, as well as the difficulty in providing services to the full population.

Authorities were struggling to restore electricity and water to all parts of the city, which is in effect under military control. Klitschko’s message to those who escaped in the wake of Russia’s invasion on February 24: “Take your time, please don’t come back.”

Klitschko, 50, said Moscow was trying systematically to demolish Ukraine’s infrastructure as it pulverised Kyiv’s food distribution centres and targeted oil refineries.

“Russia destroyed our infrastructure to destroy our economy. It’s not a war against military forces, it’s a war against the whole Ukrainian population,” he said.

He appealed for fire engines and medical staff and said Kyiv needed to rebuild its supplies of food and water in view of the risk of another Russian ground offensive.

“Nobody knows how long will be this war. Weeks? Months? I hope not years. We need reserves and support, and not just right now — for a couple of weeks.”

Mayor Vitali Klitschko, centre, inspects the damage caused by Russian shelling in Kyiv last month © Emin Sansari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Until recently Klitschko was to the outside world Ukraine’s best-known politician, thanks to his boxing prowess. But he has been eclipsed by President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose resilience and wartime leadership have turned him into a heroic figure.

The two men have not always seen eye to eye. Klitschko was previously aligned with former president Petro Poroshenko, who lost the election to Zelensky in 2019. The new president took steps to remove Klitschko from office following his victory, but ultimately decided against it.

The mayor paid tribute to Zelensky and his determination to remain in the capital despite threats to his safety. But he took issue with the president’s attempts to strike a peace deal with Moscow, which would trade Ukrainian neutrality for a ceasefire and security guarantees.

“Giving up a big part of our territory is a compromise? For me personally, and for millions of Ukrainians, it’s not,” he said.

“We’re ready to talk about compromise and negotiations just after the point when the last Russian soldier has left Ukraine.”

Moscow was one of the signatories of the 1994 Budapest memorandum, under which a newly independent Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees of its security.

“Our neutral status was our weakest point,” Klitschko said.

The former boxer spent much of his sporting career in Germany and has been sharply critical of Germany’s prevarication over providing Ukraine with weaponry and reducing its imports of Russian energy.

“They [the Germans] were a little bit late to understand they were economic hostages to Russian politicians,” he said. “If you’re sending money it means you support the war.”

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