Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has survived at least three targeted assassination attempts in the last week, according to The Times of London.
Since Russia’s unprovoked war on its western neighbor began last week, Zelenskyy has been conducting business from a handful of bunkers throughout the nation’s capital, having declined an offer from the U.S. to evacuate him.
That’s left him vulnerable to attempts on his life by teams of Kremlin-backed assassins.
Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told a Ukrainian television network that anti-war elements in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have been essential in helping foil some of the plots.
In a defiant speech last week, Zelenskyy acknowledged that he is “target No. 1” in an effort to “damage Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”
“But we are not afraid, we are not afraid of anything,” he said. “We are not afraid to defend our country. We are not afraid of Russia.”
U.S. officials warned last month that Russian forces have compiled a hit list of Ukrainian citizens to be killed or sent to detention camps.
The Kremlin has reportedly dispatched two separate groups of mercenaries to Kyiv in an attempt to fulfill that directive. One is being orchestrated by the Wagner Group, a private military contractor run by Vladimir Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, aka “Putin’s Chef.” The other is a group of elite Chechen fighters controlled by Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov.
Danilov said on Tuesday that an assassination attempt by the Chechens over the weekend failed, and the group responsible for the attempt had been “destroyed.”
Among those killed by Ukrainian forces was Chechen-Russian Gen. Magomed Tushayev, who has been accused of torturing and killing LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya.
“As we’ve seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression,” a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity told Foreign Policy.
“These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.”