In Simon Shuster's new book, the journalist gives an intimate glimpse into the life of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his team during the early days of the full-scale invasion by Russia.
The book, an excerpt of which was published by The Telegraph, reveals the hardships and the transformation of Zelenskyy from a leader into a figure symbolizing resilience in wartime.
Shuster, who spent significant time on Bankova Street, the location of the Presidential Administration Office, during the first year of the invasion, recounts the austere conditions faced by Zelenskyy and his associates.
He describes the sleepless nights, limited food supplies, and the emotional toll of the war. Zelenskyy and his team were confined to a bunker, subsisting on canned meat, stale bread, sweets, and chocolate. The stress was evident in the president's appearance, with one aide remarking that he looked like a "walking corpse."
Despite the grim situation, there were attempts to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Zelenskyy, known for his fitness, used dumbbells and a bench press, and there was even a table tennis table set up in the bunker. Zelenskyy, who was once addressed informally as "Volodya" by his associates, saw a shift to a more formal address as the war progressed.
The book also delves into Zelenskyy's initial underestimation of the threat of a full-scale invasion and his refusal to heed military advice to fortify the border. When the invasion began, while some government officials fled, Zelenskyy chose to stay, finding offers to help him escape as somewhat offensive.
One poignant moment Shuster recounts is Zelenskyy's address at an emergency summit of European leaders, where he appeared "pale and tired" and questioned Ukraine's future in the European Union. Zelenskyy's transformation into a war leader is evident in his visits to the frontlines, including a trip to newly liberated Kherson, despite the risks involved.
The book also touches on Zelenskyy's visit to Washington in December 2022, his first foreign trip since the beginning of the invasion, where Shuster noticed a visible change in the Ukrainian president, describing him as a "bulldog heading for battle."
This detailed account by Shuster offers an unprecedented look into the life of President Zelenskyy and his inner circle during one of the most challenging periods in Ukraine's history, highlighting the personal cost of leadership during wartime.