KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decision to embark on a series of foreign trips amid final preparations for Ukraine’s counterattack was met with support from some residents of the capital, Kyiv, on Friday, just hours after it was attacked for the 10th time. This month.
It was the president’s last trip – he visited four European capitals over the weekend and Saudi Arabia on Friday, and he is expected to take part in the G7 meeting in Japan in the coming days, although it may actually happen – unlike much of the first year. The war, when Mr. Zelensky’s choice to stay in Ukraine, became a symbol of defiance and solidarity.
Now, residents interviewed on the streets of Kyiv said they were comforted by the warm reception Mr. Zelensky was receiving abroad at a time when continued support from allies was paramount.
“I think it’s amazing, because it builds bridges between all countries,” said Nyonella, a 76-year-old retired sanitation worker who like many interviewees for this article asked to use only her first name due to fears of reprisal.
At every stop on his diplomatic tour, Mr. Zelensky has garnered support and asked for more weapons to fight against Russian aggression. His whirlwind trip to Germany, France and Britain last weekend netted billions of dollars in new military aid.
“Every visit to him ends on a positive note,” Nyonella said, buying vegetables at a stall in the city centre. “We got something.”
While a few of the people interviewed in Kiev seemed opposed to travel, some questioned Mr. Zelensky’s motives.
Lyudmila, 75, sitting on a Kiev park bench in the sunshine with a friend, said the trips were good for the president’s “ratings”.
“He is building an image for himself for the upcoming elections,” she said.
Katerina Babusha, who was sitting next to her young daughter’s stroller in the park, said she supported the travel because some foreign leaders were unable or afraid to visit Ukraine.
“I support his visits abroad,” she said, “because each visit is very fruitful.” “There are some agreements, some support, some help for Ukraine.”
Ms. Babusha added that her proximity to someone involved in the fighting made her pay special attention to announcements of new weapons pledges.
Most Ukrainian men have been banned from leaving the country since the war began, and the toll from nearly 15 months of fighting is being felt across the country. Volodymyr Belenko, 45, who was wounded in action in eastern Ukraine, said on Friday that he had not closely tracked Zelensky’s movements.
“I am most worried about the situation on our front,” he said, smoking a cigarette as he stood outside the hospital.
But that doesn’t mean he thinks a wartime president should stay where he is, he said. Since a general commands the armed forces, he said, Mr. Zelensky can handle foreign policy.
“If he does something good for Ukraine, it’s just a plus,” said Mr. Pilibenko.
Valentina Horbachova, 65, expressed a sense of urgency, saying that going abroad is “very much needed at the moment” – especially given the recent attacks on Kiev.
“If he would travel more and talk to people in high places, maybe peace would be established here, and maybe we would be supported,” she said, waiting to pick up her grandchildren from school.
Ms. Horbachova, who described the “horrific” attacks she witnessed from her 18th-floor apartment, said Mr. Zelensky staying in the capital in solidarity with him would do nothing.
“What would change if he sat here? We wouldn’t be bombed?” she asked. “We would be bombed just as much – maybe more if they knew he was here.”