Sky News Special Correspondent Alex Crawford has now been in Ukraine for more than three weeks since the Russian invasion. In addition to reporting from the front line of the conflict she also landed the first UK TV interview with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Here the globally respected reporter, who was last year named Women In Journalism’s first Woman of the Year, writes for WiJ on what it was like to meet the man leading Ukraine’s fight for survival…
”We are picked up by armed soldiers who arrive in blacked out vehicles at an agreed meeting point where our IDs are checked against the passport documents we’ve previously sent to the President’s office. Then we’re driven for a few minutes and taken into one of the entry points into the Ukrainian President’s office, now the heart of the country’s war machine. Our equipment is checked and double-checked, our IDs re-looked at – twice – and we’re physically frisked. We are going to see the man they believe Putin most wants to kill right now and this is probably the most heavily fortified office in the world right now.
President Zelenskyy is still full of energy, pushing through on adrenalin I suspect. His voice is low and heavy with tiredness. He’s talking to about ten world leaders a day right now and existing on four hours sleep a night, if that, but he feels the clock is ticking and he has no time to waste. He doesn’t have any time for media interviews if truth be told but this is a former actor and scriptwriter who knows how important and influential the media can be and he’s using it relentlessly to get out his message.
He tells me he doesn’t feel his English is good enough for the interview but I push him to talk in a language which is not his mother-tongue. It’s so much easier to build up a rapport when you’re talking the same language. He obliges and his anger and frustration is evident. He’s scolding the world – more than scolding … bollocking is how many British soldiers would probably describe it. In his eyes, the international community has blood on its hands for sitting by and watching Ukrainian blood spill daily. ‘They need to close the skies,’ he says, ‘this is not a choice. They have to.’
He talks as long as he needs to deliver his message which seems to be that the West will eventually get involved and then wish they’d done it earlier. And with that, he leaves quickly. His security whisper to him ‘we’ve been in one place too long’ and he strides out smiling and saying thank yous past sandbags and surrounded by soldiers who’ve taken up positions all over this building.