Ukraine Politicos Defiant in Face of Kyiv Assault, Russia 'Kill List'

Current and former Ukrainian politicians have told Newsweek they will not be cowed by Russia's invasion and reports that Moscow's forces have a "kill list" of prominent figures to neutralize in an occupation.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainians Thursday that he would remain in Kyiv and his family in Ukraine, even as Russian forces advanced towards the capital from the Belarus border to the north.

"The enemy marked me as target number one, and my family as target number two," Zelenskyy said in his televised address. "I stay in the capital, I stay with my people...My family is also in Ukraine. My children are also in Ukraine.

"My family is not traitors. They are the citizens of Ukraine."

Russian air and missile strikes on the capital intensified overnight Thursday.

As of Friday morning, fighting had been reported in the Kyiv suburb of Obolon, with officials warning that Russian special forces and saboteurs—some allegedly wearing Ukrainian military fatigues and driving captured Ukrainian vehicles—were planning raids and assassinations inside the government quarter.

Among their targets could be current and former politicians, perceived by the Kremlin as threats to their subjugation of Ukraine. Earlier this week, the U.S. told the United Nations Russia has a hit list of "identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps."

Three politicos who spoke with Newsweek said they were concerned, but defiant.

"Of course we are worried," said Yelyzaveta Yasko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and of Zelenskyy's Servant of the People party.

Yasko noted that Russian strikes on Kyiv intensified overnight Thursday but that she and other MPs would not leave the capital: "Most of us are in Kyiv because it is our land. I really don't feel why we should leave."

Putin, she said, "wants to win the Soviet Union back."

Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine's former ambassador to the U.S., also spoke to Newsweek from Kyiv. "No doubt they not only have this list, but have ordered special units do that," he said of Russia's reported neutralization orders.

Asked if he felt at personal risk, Chaly replied: "Sure...I am the only Ukrainian ambassador under Russian sanctions.

"All of us are in the same circumstances. But 'kill lists' are a special instrument in their dirty game."

Serhiy Kiral is a deputy mayor in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Many Western diplomats relocated to the city shortly before the invasion, fearing a Russian assault on Kyiv.

The city has been touted as a possible alternate capital in the case of Kyiv's capture and as a hub to supply Ukrainian forces continuing the fight against the Russian invaders.

Kiral told Newsweek Friday he was not aware of any preparations for the government in Kyiv to relocate to Lviv. Kiral praised the "fearless" stance Zelenskyy has taken so far.

"It's a great example, an extreme inspiration and motivation both for the military and the civilian population," Kiral said. "I would be in very strong doubts that there are any preparations or any serious discussions currently going on between Lviv and Kyiv in terms of relocation."

As for the "kill list," Kiral said he had other priorities. "I heard about that...but I think that's the last thing I should be worried about currently.

"The most important thing for me—as the representative for the Lviv city authorities, together with the mayor and the other deputy ministers—is to make sure that the city continues to be safe, function, and provide all the necessary service services to the inhabitants.

"We're also ready to host the large number, potentially, of refugees and internally displaced people coming from other parts of Ukraine.

"We are monitoring the situation in Ukraine and trying to analyze, read the reports of how it can evolve. Whether and when the combat front will move further to the west. That's another thing that we have to be ready for...

"I'm sure a lot of us will also mobilize and will fight against the aggressor."

Ukrainian soldiers guard Kyiv checkpoint Ukraine Russia
Ukrainian servicemen stand on patrol at a security checkpoint on February 25, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images