Mayor of Kiev: Extraordinarily, in extremely difficult times

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KYIV, Ukraine (TBEN) — The body armor propped against a radiator ready to go, the empty shell cluttering his desk, the boxing memorabilia and the sign asking visitors to leave firearms at his door: Allen shout that this is the office of an extraordinary mayor, in extraordinarily difficult times.

Other more personal details complete the picture: the book on a sideboard about British war leader Winston Churchill is signed “With best wishes” by its author, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

And then there’s the plastic toy figure of a muscular boxer, fist clenched high — a reminder of how physically imposing, terrifying even, Vitali Klitschko was in his world title-winning, opponent-pumping heavyweight boxing premiere.

That much has not changed. His handshake is crushingly firm, his gaze hard as steel. But the pressure on the shoulders and on the time of the 51-year-old mayor of Ukraine’s capital is now heavier than ever before as his fortunes were measured in three-minute rounds that ended with the ringing of a bell.

“If I tried to explain to you all the challenges I have, it would take us weeks,” Klitschko said.

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As was the case during his years as a professional prizefighter, the fight for survival he now wages is primal. But it’s also more important: to avoid a complete blackout in his city of 3 million, to keep families from freezing in the cold that winter brings, and to keep Ukraine’s hyper-digital capital connected on the outside world.

All this in a gruesome war against an invader, Russia, seemingly intent on destroying all those things — with repeated barrages of missiles and exploding drones battering Ukraine’s power grid and other key infrastructure.

“It’s terror,” Klitschko said, lashing out the word in an The Bharat Express News interview in his office at City Hall on the 268th day of the invasion.

“They (left) us ice cold,” he said. “Without electricity, without heating, without water.”

Power still arrives – sometimes – but can no longer be relied upon. In a city with ubiquitous Wi-Fi and where almost everything can be done online, hours of power outages are the horrendous new normal for many. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian attacks have damaged about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

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In darkened restaurants in Kiev, diners navigate meals in near-darkness, served by waiters with candles. Residents wake up in the middle of the night – when it’s their turn to get power back for a few hours – to shower and do laundry.

“A huge challenge,” said Klitschko.

So what’s the worst case scenario? How much worse can it get?

“I don’t like to talk about that,” he said. “But I have to be prepared.”

Part of the answer comes from the very large hands of Klitschko. How difficult life will become depends in part on how many missiles Russian President Vladimir Putin has left in his arsenal to throw at Kiev and other cities.

But on the plus side, based on the most recent strikes, fewer missiles and drones appear to be getting through the capital’s air defenses as they have been reinforced with Western-provided systems to shoot down projectiles. During a surprise visit to Kiev on Saturday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak came with more help, promising 125 anti-aircraft guns and other defenses against exploding Iranian-supplied drones that Russia has been using.

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“Things are going much better than before. Absolutely,” Klitschko said. ‘But it’s not enough. … We need more to protect other cities.”

Klitschko’s guess is that Putin’s strategy is to cause the Ukrainians so much misery that they give up.

That will not work, the mayor predicted.

“After every missile strike I talk to the people, to simple citizens. They (are) not depressed,” he said. “They were mad, angry and ready to stay and defend our homes, our families and our future.”

A Ukrainian flag pinned to the wall behind his desk reinforced his argument: “Together to victory” and “We will win,” soldiers wrote on it.

While making his point, Klitschko quoted a message he said he received from a Kiev soldier telling him that there was “no heating, no water, no electricity, no services” in his front line.

“’We fight for each of you. When you complain, remember our condition,” Klitschko said, recalling the soldier’s plea.

“It’s a great answer,” said the mayor.

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Follow TBEN coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine