Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops on February 24, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been subjected to almost daily death threats. Ten assassination attempts have already been foiled by his protected guard. Faced with this omnipresent danger, the figurehead of the Ukrainian resistance was forced to take refuge in a secret building in kyiv.
At the beginning of May, Tom Steinfort, reporter for “60 Minutes” – an Australian investigative program – had the chance to meet Zelensky in his bunker. In an opinion published in The Sydney Morning Heraldthe journalist tells behind the scenes of his journey.
The day before his interview with the Ukrainian President, Tom Steinfort receives an SMS containing secret information: “Here is your access code to meet the President … please be punctual”.
The next day, the journalist and his team go to the meeting place. “After crossing roadblocks guarded by armed special forces, our team is led on foot into a hidden alley, which leads us to a dark courtyard,” explains Tom Steinfort. “There, other soldiers stand in front of a steel gate. They check our passports, and direct us to the inner compound of the compound.”
“We are then forced to put all our equipment through x-ray scanners – the same as at the airport – and undergo new passport checks. Then the canine squad is responsible for inspecting our belongings at the search for explosives”, continues the journalist.
“We cannot risk poisoning”
Once inside, the team of journalists then gives gifts to the president. “We wanted to offer them a bottle of wine and a packet of Tim Tam, the famous Australian biscuits”, explains the journalist. “But what we think was a present, the Ukrainian guards saw as a threat.” The soldiers indeed confiscate the gifts to have them analyzed. “We cannot risk poisoning”, justifies the close guard of the president.
Tom Steinfort describes the interior of the building as a “real war bunker”. If chandeliers, works of art and four giant Ukrainian flags adorn the walls, the interior of the complex is no less inhospitable. “The hallways are plunged into complete darkness – all the lights are off and the windows are covered with sandbags – so that the complex cannot be seen by possible Russian bombers. Some doors are blocked by filing cabinets piled up on top of each other and chairs that reinforce them.”
In another investigation, the magazine Time specifies that the streets around the complex of Zelensky are a veritable maze of “checkpoints” and barricades. No car can approach it. For local residents who live in the area, access is conditioned by a password. “These secret passwords change every day. They are often nonsensical phrases, phrases that would be difficult for a Russian to pronounce,” reveals Time.