As It Happens·Q&A

Russian soldiers will 'never, ever' take Kyiv, says mayor of Ukraine's capital

The residents of Kyiv will not allow Russian soldiers to seize control of the capital, says the city's mayor.

With heavy fighting in the surrounding communities, Ukraine's president warns of pending assault on capital

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, centre, visits a checkpoint of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues on Sunday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Story Transcript

The residents of Kyiv will not allow Russian soldiers to seize control of the capital, says the city's mayor, Vitali Klitschko.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Friday that Russian forces will soon "make an assault" on Kyiv, as fierce fighting continues near the city. 

Russia announced a handful of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee Ukraine starting Monday, although the evacuation routes were mostly leading to Russia and its ally Belarus, drawing criticism from Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to pummel Ukrainian cities including Mykolaiv, south of the capital, and the towns of Bucha, Hostomel, Vorzel and Irpin, which are north of the city. 

But Mayor Klitschko remains defiant that Russian forces will not take the capital. In Kyiv, soldiers and volunteers have built hundreds of checkpoints — often using sandbags — stacked tires and spiked cables, as they prepare for a Russian offensive. 

Here is part of Klitschko's conversation with As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay on Monday.

President Zelensky is warning of a major new attack on Kyiv. Are you seeing any signs of a new Russian offensive where you are today? 

It's not secret [that] a target for Russian aggressors is [the] capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. 

They want to make their circle around our city. But I'm very proud to be Ukrainian because our Ukrainian army, our Ukrainian soldiers, have a good will. We stay in front of one the strongest armies in the world, the Russian army. But we show the great skills and the will to win. 

We have huge motivation because we defend our family, we defend our children, we defend our houses, we defend our future. 

And that's why close to Kyiv [in] the small towns — Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel — right now, it's a huge fight.

You say that they want to encircle the city. How are you preparing to defend the city right now from those attacks? 

Just a couple weeks ago [Ukrainian civilians didn't] have the idea to change their clothes. And right now they [are wearing] uniforms, with weapons [in their] hands. I'm very surprised. The people are musicians, doctors, actors. It's a big patriotic wave. It's every man in our city ready to defend families, ready to fight. 

Local residents look for cover as they escape from the town of Irpin, after heavy shelling on the only escape route used by locals, while Russian troops advance towards the capital. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The world has watched in amazement these last two weeks as Ukrainians have defended their country. But at some point, you are facing a much bigger foe, a very large army. If these attacks come — when these attacks come — how long do you think you can hold out? 

Never, ever. They're never coming to our city.

I understand why you say that. But at some point, people with small arms fighting … one of the most ferocious military advances, how realistically can you hope to sustain that? 

They tried to come. They [had] a plan … in the beginning of their aggression, to be in Kyiv. Twelve days done; Putin doesn't implement his plan. 

I'll explain why. Because [the] whole population in Ukraine helped us. If they see the tanks, if [they see] a [Russian] soldier, they give the call. They help … our army. Everybody, they came with the Ukrainian flags and tell to every Russian soldier: "Go back home. Stop the war."

The Russian soldiers have huge psychological pressure … and they [are] also human and they also [are] afraid. But they [are] not comfortable in our land, because they understand they [are the] aggressor, and the population, the people in Ukraine, [are] very unfriendly to them. 

People walk on a partially destroyed bridge in Bucha, north of Kiev, in this still image taken from video on March 2. (Reuters)

Today the Ukrainian diplomats were continuing their negotiations with Russian officials, looking for at least a ceasefire. What kind of settlement could come out of those talks that would be acceptable to you? 

I'm not part of the group who make negotiations, but [the Russians] have to never be on the coast of Ukraine. 

Is there anything that you would be prepared at this point to give up in order for the Russians to leave? 

It's good to talk to President Zelensky about [how] the negotiation's going, but I am more than sure [Russians will] have to be not on the coast of Ukraine. This will be a nightmare if we accept the Russian aggression. 

The key to win this war for Ukraine is international unity — unity of every democratic country. Because we are fighting not just for our country. We're fighting for values. We're fighting for principles. And we are fighting for democracy because we don't want [to go] back to U.S.S.R., back to the Russian Empire.

We see our future as part of European democratic countries, part of the European family.

You're the mayor of the city, but you've also become a soldier. You've also taken up arms. Can you tell me what you have seen on the streets? 

Every morning I wake up and I hope everything that happened in the last two weeks is [a] nightmare. But I open my eyes and I see it's not. It's hard reality.

The city's empty. The people [are building] the barricades in the street. The people go with the weapons. The women [are] crying. The children [are] very afraid. 

The last week has totally changed our life. Totally changed. 

You're speaking to the people of Canada tonight. What is your message to Canadians? 

I want to say thank you very much [to those] who support Ukraine, who support democracy, who support our country. Without your help, we can't survive. 

Stay with us. Stay with Ukraine. It's very important. Very important, not just for Ukraine. It's very important for peace in the world.

We feel support from Canada. We know it's a huge … Ukrainian diaspora living in Canada. And we feel that. And I want to say … thank you so much for everything [that] you're doing for our country.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press and CBC News. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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