“‘This might be the last time you see me alive.’”
That chilling warning, according to a report from Axios, came from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, during a Thursday night video call with leaders of European Union countries to discuss Russia’s ongoing military invasion of its western neighbor.
At least 100 Ukrainians have reportedly died, and Russian troops have targeted urban centers including Friday’s steady movement toward Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, with gunfire and explosions heard across much of Ukraine.
Zelensky said in a video statement that he is “staying in the government quarter [of Kyiv] together with others,” but would not specify his location.
The Financial Times reported on Friday that Zelensky informed EU leaders he was not sure if he would be able to speak with them again.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault had been anticipated for weeks by the U.S. and its Western allies, with Zelensky cautioning over sowing panic, even as the U.S. and U.K. shared declassified intelligence indicating that the Kremlin sought to leverage disinformation such as a staged video purporting to show a mass-casualty event to create a pretext for a full-scale invasion.
U.S. intelligence reportedly indicated that the Kremlin had created a list of prominent figures in Ukraine whom it would seek to kill or capture.
From the archives (January 2022): Russia mapping out ‘false flag’ incident in eastern Ukraine as pretext to invade, according to ‘very credible’ U.S. intelligence assessment
See also: ‘No to war’: Mass arrests reported as Russians protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price noted Thursday that Zelensky continues to be a “prime target for Russian aggression.”
U.S. President Joe Biden announced “severe sanctions” against Putin and Russia on Thursday. Among those sanctions: blocking activities of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank
and four other major Russian financial institutions; prohibiting Russia’s state-owned organizations from raising money from U.S. or European sources; halving Russia’s high-tech imports; and placing targeted sanctions on Russian elites, such as the Putin-aligned oligarchs, and their family members.
“When the history of this era is written, Putin’s choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger,” Biden said on Thursday. “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war.”