The occupiers approached Kyiv on February 24 — but the city defense repelled them. Now its mayor Vitaliy Klitschko prepares Kyiv for winter, receives threats from the Presidentʼs Office, and divorces his wife — an interview

Oksana Kovalenko, Maria Zhartovska
Yevhen Spirin
The occupiers approached Kyiv on February 24 — but the city defense repelled them. Now its mayor Vitaliy Klitschko prepares Kyiv for winter, receives threats from the Presidentʼs Office, and divorces his wife — an interview

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

Until February 24, the mayor of Kyiv Vitaliy Klitschko fought with the Presidentʼs Office for the post of the head of the Kyiv City State Administration (details are here). He anticipated the Russian invasion, so on that day he set the alarm for 3 AM. At four oʼclock he was informed that it had begun, and within a day, on February 25, the occupiers approached the capital. The mayor was supported in his work by his younger brother Volodymyr. Together, they reassured the people of Kyiv via video messages, informed about the situation in the city, visited the sites of rocket attacks, as well as checkpoints. They also gave hundreds of interviews to Western media and called on the international community to stop the war. Only on April 4, Vitaliy Klitschko was able to say for the first time that Kyiv is gradually returning to normal life. This happened after the Russian occupiers retreated from Kyiv oblast, although the city still remains the main target of the invaders, says the mayor. Klitschko continues to communicate with Western partners: he met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, together with his brother he went to the NATO summit at the end of June. He also restores damaged houses and prepares the capital for winter. "Babel" journalists Oksana Kovalenko and Masha Zhartovska asked Vitaliy Klitschko about the phone calls from the government quarter, the search for a German passport, relations with the Cabinet of Ministers and Presidentʼs Office, preparation of Kyiv for the cold months, and the divorce.

In a recent interview with Dmytro Gordon, you said that you had information from secret services about a possible attack on Kyiv and that you set the alarm for three in the morning on February 24. When did you find this out?

We had semi-official information a few days before, from our military and intelligence officers, that the invasion of Ukraine is most likely planned for the night of February 24, at four in the morning. I woke up at three, I didnʼt sleep for an hour. And at four oʼclock the military called me and said: it has begun.

And then you heard the explosions?

At six or seven in the morning I already called everyone, and we had the first meeting at the city hall.

On the eve of the war, you, unlike the president and the authorities, did not reassure people, did not say that everything will be as usual and that we will grill kebabs in May. Why?

Information came from open sources — from the Ukrainian military, the intelligence of our partners, from countries that support Ukraine. They emphasized that the probability [of a full-scale war] is quite high. And we need in no case to cool down, but to prepare for it. Therefore, I constantly raised this topic, held meetings that not everyone liked. One of the key tasks was the formation of Territorial Defense in Kyiv.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

You say that you learned about the possibility of an invasion in a few days before it happened. Didnʼt you try to hint to the people in Kyiv that it might be better to leave?

To be honest, I expected that if hostilities began, it would most likely be in the east of the country. Frankly, I did not expect that the attack would be so rapid, from the south and the north.

With the beginning of the war, how ready was Territorial Defense in Kyiv?

It was at the initial stage of formation. In order to join its ranks, a person had to collect a bunch of papers, pass different commissions, spend a lot of time, take a leave from the main job. Even my brother spent two weeks of his own time to collect all the necessary papers. I told him where he needed to go, arranged to do it as quickly as possible [and still it was slow]. But he showed by his own example that it is necessary to join the Territorial Defense. And he did it one of the first.

Is he currently staying in the defense or doing something else?

Yes, he is in there. Now heʼs in Germany for a short time, where he is conducting negotiations on the supplies for our Armed Forces. He uses his authority very powerfully — this applies to humanitarian support, economic support, support with military equipment. All issues are more effectively resolved on a personal level, rather than on the level of official correspondence. To date, we have attracted tens, if not hundreds, of millions of euros from various countries and sources. This is his area of responsibility. I asked my brother to use his connections to attract help to Kyiv and Ukraine. He also communicates a lot with the media, draws the worldʼs attention to what is happening in Ukraine, and what kind of help we need. This is also very important.

How did he leave, because men [of conscription age] are not allowed to leave the country?

He left with an official invitation and mandate, with all documents set. At the beginning of next week, he returns to Kyiv. He is currently having meetings in Germany regarding aid to Ukraine.

You spend a lot of time with your brother. We asked you before, but you didnʼt want to commentmaybe he will go into politics?

He is not going into politics, I have not heard of such plans from him. He always says: "One politician is enough in our family." But he is a caring citizen of his country and worries about his country and his family. And even his little daughter was in Kyiv for a while, because this is her Motherland.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

What did your working day consist of when the Russians were on the outskirts of Kyiv for the first month and a half?

I have the impression that it was one long, endless day: constant meetings, calls, departures, construction of defensive structures and checkpoints. It was necessary to block the key roads, to prevent a possible landing of the Russian force on the platforms in Kyiv. So they couldnʼt seize key strategic objects and buildings of state administration. It is hard work both day and night. And there is also the constant danger of attacks on infrastructural facilities — we had to protect both the people of Kyiv and the infrastructure. And also — to provide all heating, water, and electricity services. I can say that at that time there were no failures, despite the large number of people mobilized to the Armed Forces and the large number of people who left the city. Some enterprises had less than half of their employees. All this time we were preparing for the most difficult development of events — for possible battles already in the city.

What was the preparation for such a scenario? What should the authorities do in such cases?

In case the Russians broke through to Kyiv and the fighting would begin in the city — we would have to instantly present many surprises for them. This is what we prepared. I can confidently say that it would not be a cake walk for them.

But did they break through on February 25, when their DRGs were neutralized on military transport already in Obolon?

The saboteurs tried to break through from the side of Lutizh, to Shevchenko Square. They were eliminated, there were no more such breakthroughs. Nevertheless, there were enough sabotage groups in Kyiv. Many of them were neutralized then, and now the Security Service of Ukraine continues to neutralize them. There are still quite a few sleeping teams that were supposed to be activated at X hour — unfortunately, they are still in the city. Therefore, I always appeal to the citizens of Kyiv to be vigilant and pay attention to suspicious persons, especially near critical infrastructure facilities — to those who are filming there. It is imperative to immediately inform the law enforcement officers about such cases. We remember how in Kyiv at the end of February — the beginning of March, many labels suddenly appeared, they were visible from the air. There were a lot of illumination missiles, as well as quadcopters that took information and flew over key objects. In this way, now itʼs a little calmer now. But I want to emphasize once again: not a single missile attack on any object in Ukraine takes place without the help of saboteur groups or collaborators. That is, the enemy fire adjusters continue to work in Kyiv and in other cities. Therefore, I always appeal [to the locals]: be alert and attentive to everything that happens around you.

In what ways was Kyiv unprepared for warwhat were the mistakes, and has work been done on them?

The time to criticize and analyze the situation will come, and we will be able to analyze everything. But as of today, I have a big question: for two months, the Russians, with more than a hundred thousand soldiers in the north, conducted the so-called training with a high probability of invasion, which everyone was talking about. And then they came close to Kyiv almost without resistance. To Lutizh.

To put simply, you have a question, why did the Russians advance from the north so quickly?

Without any resistance! But this is a general question for the military. And it remains. I am convinced that we have completed the work on mistakes, and now this will never happen again.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

We ask about another levelin what spheres was the city unprepared, and have these mistakes been corrected?

We did what we could at our level. Urged people to join the Territorial defeose, tried to simplify the process of joining it, conducted training, and prepared strategic enterprises for possible work in a critical period.

I did not expect that the capital would be almost surrounded so quickly, and the Russians would come close to our city. But now we are correcting and taking into account options that were not predicted then. So that this situation does not happen again.

Which days, according to your feelings, were the most difficult?

For me — the first two weeks, and for Kyiv — the first month. It was necessary to quickly reformat the work of all enterprises, establish communication and already work in an emergency situation. No one expected such an experience. But people showed themselves to be responsible enough at this moment. I can say my simple human impression: there were people who looked like nerds, completely unprepared for emergency situations, and no one expected them to show an iron character and a core, but they showed themselves brilliantly. And some who sold themselves as strong machos disappeared at one point. They be found in [far and calm] Uzhhorod at best.

Are you alluding to Mykola Tyshchenko ?

This is what you are saying. At best, in Uzhgorod or Lviv, and at worst — abroad. And we still canʼt find some of them. Even some officials.

Is it true that you couldnʼt find some of your deputies in the first days?

To this day, one of these deputies is missing.

Who are we talking about?

I wonʼt say.

You can int, at least.

One of the deputies disappeared.

And what was this deputy responsible for?

For one of important directions.

According to "Babel"ʼs information, this refers to Oleksandr Kharchenko, mayorʼs deputy. Kharchenko was appointed to this position in September 2020, and was dismissed in March 2022 due to absence from work for valid reasons. Vladyslav Andronov, a deputy of the Kyiv City Council from Klitschkoʼs UDAR party, was appointed in his place.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

Mayors say that the law on Territorial Defense was adopted late (it entered into force in January 2022), so they simply did not have time to deploy these forces. You started preparing it in advance. Did you have conflicts with the Presidentʼs Office because of this?

Constantly. It was even hinted to me that I should not do this, because in this way I allegedly go beyond the limits of my authority. And even some people were fired for taking part in the meetings that I convened and which were related to defense and, in particular, the Territorial Defense of Kyiv.

With the beginning of the war, the Kyiv Military-Civil Administration appeared on the basis of the Kyiv City State Administration (KCSA), the head of which was appointed by Presidentit was Mykola Zhyrnov. You always insisted that Kyiv mayor should also be the head of the KCSA. What are your relationships, communication, what is Zhyrnov responsible for, and what are you responsible for?

As for the unification of the positions of the head of the KCSA and the mayor of Kyiv, this is written in the Constitution. But this is about peacetime, and in wartime, when a military man was appointed to the military administration, I said that I understood it. Because the military must communicate professionally with the military. This is about defense. And in this direction, we have a normal working relationship with Mykola Zhyrnov. As for defense issues, he is a professional soldier and even has the rank of general. We are now helping the military with everything necessary.

As for ensuring the life of the city, services, the military has no understanding in this direction. And now is the time when we must work to help the military. Therefore, the discussion on this topic did not even begin.

Why then itʼs you who mostly communicates with the people of Kyiv, and not him?

Because I continue to perform my functions as the head of the KCSA and as the mayor. People know me and listen to me. I am elected by the people of Kyiv and I am responsible for the city. These powers were not taken away from me. Therefore, of course, I will continue to communicate with the people of Kyiv.

While waiting for you, we were looking at your office and that picture with a big boat and a bunch of small...

It has been hanging for several years, it is Ukrainian politics.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

We thought the same thing. When the Russians were standing in the outskirts of Kyiv, everyone united, and when they left, Ukrainian politics returned to its favorite mode — internal quarrels. You and your brother actively gave interviews to foreign media, communicated with Western partners and were constantly on the news. Is it true that the Presidentʼs Office called you and asked to reduce your media activity?

There were no such calls. My bosses are the people of Kyiv and the interests of the city. And I do everything that I consider important and necessary for the life support of the capital, for informing its residents. Because informing the people of Kyiv is extremely important, and no one can tell me what to do in this regard. We can coordinate our messages or signals with other authorities. But as for the limitation, there was no such thing.

Were you released without delays to Madrid for the NATO summit (on June 28), where you went with your brother?


What were the complications related to?

To the same thing, with which the difficulties with the departure of other mayors are constantly connected. We must clearly define the criteria for the departure of mayors on business trips. I am convinced that contacts are built on personal relationships — between mayors of cities, leaders of countries. When a person comes to the partners, voices the problem, they are ready to help, but you need to justify and convince. It doesnʼt work as effectively in correspondence. Today you need to use all the levers and opportunities in order to get help. And we are very grateful for the help from our friends. From friendly countries, sister cities that have helped and continue to help. But the ban on coming and talking with the head of one or another city, with foreign politicians, is at least...


Selective and incorrect. These are also, I believe, political games. I have always said, and now I want to: there is a word, some people do not understand it. In this word is the answer to all the questions you ask. This word is called "self-government" [raises his voice and speaks in syllables]. Some people believe that self-government should be led from the top. And build self-government from top to bottom.


Those who always try to influence and control the mayors.

We have a Congress of local and regional authorities, headed by the head of the Office of the President, Andriy Yermak, is he one of such persons?

We have the Association of Cities of Ukraine [led by Klitschko], which includes 1,000 communities. And this is one of the oldest, most powerful, most influential organizations. I will repeat once again — self-government is built from the bottom up, not the other way around.

Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov complained to the Cabinet of Ministers and the Prime Minister in an interview with Dzerkalo Tyzhnia about the governmentʼs decision to return all purchases of local self-government bodies, including those for the army and Territorial Defense, to the Prozorro system. This made it difficult for local authorities to quickly purchase goods and equipment. Did you send a letter from the Association of Cities of Ukraine, was there a dialogue with the Prime Minister on this matter?

I have not heard or seen anything from the Prime Minister since the beginning of the war. Called him many times, even texted him. But I did not see the desire or interest to communicate. Well... If we are not helped, then we do everything to solve the problem on our own. And so far we are doing well.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

You donʼt have a dialogue with the government at all, but you do with the Presidentʼs Office?

I meet with almost all ministers when necessary. I tried many times to meet with the Prime Minister. In Presidential Office, I am talking to a representative who is responsible for…

Regional policy? Kyrylo Tymoshenko?

Kyrylo Tymoshenko. And thatʼs all.

In the already mentioned interview with Dmytro Gordon, you said that you only spoke with the Presidential Office a few times. Why was there such weak communication with the mayor of Kyiv during the war?

I try to get in touch in two cases: when Kyiv needs help and when Kyiv can provide help. If nobody gets in touch, or they canʼt help, or our help isnʼt needed, I use all my leverage and capabilities. If not directly, then we do everything in a roundabout way.

You are one of the signatories of the open letter regarding the return of citizenship to [Hennadiy] Korban.

Yes. And many mayors also signed it.

Who asked you to sign it, [Dnipro city mayor and Korbanʼs longtime ally Borys] Filatov?

In this case, it should not be about personalities, but about the principles by which it happens. Today, there is no need to ask me about the steps I am taking, because I consider them correct. It is necessary to join forces and make maximum use of the efficiency of each person, each manager, and not to create artificial intrigues or obstacles. I will tell you a secret. After I signed the letter, I had a conversation with a hint: "You are so proactive, we have not yet taken up your German citizenship." I reply: "I will be very surprised if you show me and also take away my German passport."

Donʼt you have another passport?

I will be very surprised if someone can show me "my" American or German passport to take the Ukrainian one. I really spent a large part of my life in Germany and America. And I had the opportunity to get citizenship, there were even such offers, but for what? I was and remain a citizen of Ukraine, I have no other passports.

And who was joking with you?

Letʼs pass this question.

From Bankova?

Well, from who else could do this? Housing office?

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

And how do you explain to yourself the reasons for the decision regarding Korban and several other people?

I want to emphasize once again: there must be a clear understanding — everything must be done according to the same principles for everyone, and not selectively. In this case, it looks like this: we will take the citizenship from him, and we will leave it like this for now so that others are more obedient, understand that we can also take it from them. We need a clear law, one for all, not selective decision-making.

You and I met shortly before the war, you had big plans for the UDAR party, you wanted to develop it. Serhiy Prytula also had plans for his partyhe was planning a party congress. Currently, sociological surveys are tight, but NDI conducted a survey in May, in particular, on attitudes towards parties. According to him, 63% of Ukrainians like you, and 31% of UDAR. Will you convert this into a political story?

Today, all party flags have disappeared. Representatives of different political forces must unite exclusively under one flag — of Ukraine. There can be no other flags. Secondly, the issue of rebuilding the political structure is impractical at the moment. Because today the issue of the existence of the state, not political parties, is acute. If there is no state, we can forget about political forces. It will be a big mistake to invest time and energy in party building. As for communication, we coordinate the activities of those people who apply from various branches of the party regarding humanitarian aid and volunteering. But this is not a political activity.

From time to time, Western journalists and analysts ask about the possibility of other political projects. For example, will Prytula be there, will Klitschko be there?

And I will ask differently: will Ukraine exist? Letʼs save Ukraine and then we can talk about political personalities or political activities. There is no point in talking about it until victory. These are like building sand castles. We must join forces for the sake of the country. Despite the fact that some Telegram channels say that "everything is fine" or "we are about to storm the Kremlin", in reality the situation is very difficult. We must not underestimate the enemy. And the battle continues. We showed our strength. But so far no expert in the world can say when the war will end. Therefore, all questions about political activity and political struggle in a state whose existence is under threat are inappropriate.

A practical question. There is a draft law with new construction standards that the president must sign. New houses should have bomb shelters and new access to shelters. Reinforced concrete public transport stops are planned in Kharkiv to protect passengers. What ideas does Kyiv have about protecting people?

First, we systematically approach this issue. Some things we can fix quickly, some things require a lot of investment and time. Frankly, since Soviet times, the subway has been defined as a dual-use object, as a bomb shelter. Some bomb shelters in Kyiv, in its central part, have remained since the Cold War. When new areas were being built — I mean the Kharkiv district, Obolon — there was no such danger, so the issue of bomb shelters is very acute there. And these are large areas where hundreds of thousands of people live. But it is unrealistic to immediately take and in a very short time to build bomb shelters. Therefore, we use any dual-use premises, where we can be more or less protected. These are basements, underground parking lots, underground passages, where you can hide in case of bombing or attacks. All of them are on the map posted on the website of the city government, in the Kyiv Digital application. Therefore, we ask every resident of our city to know the list of available shelters in their area or near work, where you can wait out the danger.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

This is about the responsibility of each person, and what can Kyiv do to ensure this? We have an order that during alarms, all land transport stops, people have to get out and go to shelters. I looked over the shelter map. For example, the section from the Pochayna metro in the direction of Troeshchyna. It takes 26 minutes to get from the malls to the nearest shelter. For example, the transport stopped right there. What should Kyivans do, and how can you protect them?

In the case of an air alert, crowding is a danger. It is necessary to leave the centers and go to shelters, many of which have them, in particular, underground parking lots. If there is no shelter, you need to hide immediately, it should be either concrete structures or a hollow. People should get out of the transport and disperse.

Secondly, there are a lot of critics: "Why are we leaving transport?" Because these are the rules written in blood. In Mykolaiv, the Russians hit a bus stop, many people died, many were injured. These rules are to avoid tragedy.

And thirdly, it was not Klitschko himself who made such a decision. This is the decision of the Defense Council of the city of Kyiv. On the recommendation of the military, specialists of the Emergency Situations Service.

Everything you say is what people should do. And what about the city? What is the city doing to protect people in these new conditions?

It would be an ideal story if Kyiv would build a bomb shelter near every transport stop, but letʼs be honest, itʼs impossible to do.

We live in special conditions, and we cannot do many things instantly. We are now talking about the construction of bomb shelters or dual-use facilities. But the city has no money! Well, that is, Kyiv has 16 billion UAH of virtual money in its treasury account. And there is no real money in the budget!

All the money now goes to defense, to war. And we understand that. By special decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers, we receive money for the reconstruction of buildings damaged by shelling so that people can return before the start of the heating season. There is no more money.

We receive money for support, there is no development budget, none at all. And today we only have money to support the critical infrastructure of the cityʼs vital activities. And thatʼs it. We have to face the reality.

Crowding of people in public transport in the event of a missile strike poses a threat to their lives. Therefore, they should go out, disperse or, optimally, run to a bomb shelter and wait for the air raid alarm to stop.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

We all understand that this winter will be extremely difficult. What are your forecasts, will Kyiv have enough gas or electricity? What should the city prepare for?

I donʼt want to reassure everyone and say that everything will be fine. We live in harsh reality and have to calculate different scenarios. Gas is the responsibility of the government, they assured us that there will be gas for the population and that it will not become more expensive. This is the expectation. But we do not rule out that there may be acts of terrorism, attacks on gas stations. We also take this scenario into account. We bought generators, fuel for these generators. First of all, they will go to hospitals, kindergartens and schools. We will do everything possible and impossible, which depends on us, so that the houses are warm. But I ask everyone to prepare warm home clothes, warm blankets, because we do not rule out that the temperature in homes will be several degrees below normal. The norm is 21 degrees, but it can be 19 or 18.

There may also be power outages. We hope and will do everything to ensure that this does not happen.

If there are power outages, we have generators. If there is no heating or no gas, we have reserves of fuel. We will be able to function autonomously for a while. But this is a fairly short period of time that is needed to solve the problem.

You recently said that three million Kyivans have already returned to Kyiv, do you expect them to leave or return closer to winter?

Everything will depend on the situation at the front. If there is good news from there, and there will be successes for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, I am sure that people will return. In March, Kyiv was home to approximately one million Kyivans, because mostly women and children had left the city, leaving only men who were ready to resist a possible invasion. Now, according to the data of mobile operators on the number of phones in the city, we know that there are approximately three million people in the capital. Not all of them are from Kyiv. Today, about 120,000 internally displaced persons have been officially registered, and according to our calculations, there are about 200,000 of them in general. And about one million Kyivans have not yet returned to the city.

And what do your sources say, thanks to which you set the alarm on the eve of the war? Will there be an attack?

I want to say clearly, and I hope everyone understands it: Kyiv was the goal of the aggressor and remains the goal of the aggressor. Not only Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk or Bakhmut. Kyiv is the main goal, because it is the heart of the state.

Are Russians able to come to Kyiv and seize the city now? I am sure that no, they cannot. In addition, we are much better prepared and have much more resources than, for example, six months ago.

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

And they have missiles, unfortunately.

We see how effective air defense works. As the mayor of the city, I emphasize at every meeting abroad with our partners that we need the so-called iron dome over the capital. And I can say that modern Western weapons and equipment are arriving, and gradually the city is becoming more protected.

Have you already told us what your brother does, humanitarian issues, and what does the family do?

Children are studying, they are old enough. Brother — it is clear what he does, he enlists help. By the way, I suggested that he systematize the information and make a small report. Everyone will be surprised how effectively he works in this area. And not advertising it too much — because that was his choice.

And the family?

Mom has now had an operation, she will be back in a week.


It is no secret that we have been living not only in different cities, but also in different countries for many years. Many years — different interests, different life. And we decided to formalize it already.

That is, divorce?

Yes. This is the desire of both of us. We still have good relations, we respect each other, the children are grown up, and life goes on.

In conclusion, a question in the style of TSN: Vitaliy Klitschkoʼs heart is free or not?

It is occupied by Kyiv. How not to love it, my Kyiv?

Alex Kuzmin / «Babel’»

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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