A Mayor at War: Vitali Klitschko on keeping himself and Kyiv alive.

THE NEW YORK MAGAZINE:

Vitali Klitschko is speaking from an office in Kyiv when he plays a recording he made of an air-raid siren, which begins broad and low before climbing into a high-pitched scream. “Two, three, four times during the night we hear the siren and we immediately have to go to the bunker,” Klitschko says through Skype, dressed more like a soldier than a mayor in a camo-green insulated coat zipped to his chin. Perhaps a little tired, he rubs the bridge of his nose, which looks flattened from his time as the world’s former heavyweight-boxing champion.

Inside the bunker, Klitschko recalls, after the sirens go quiet, the phones start ringing with reports about Russia’s latest war crime in Ukraine. That’s when he leaves and rushes to the smoldering buildings, where he says he helps firefighters with rescue efforts. “A few days ago I was visiting an apartment building that was destroyed from a rocket,” he says. “An old man comes to me and tells me, ‘Mr. Klitschko, Mr. Mayor, I’m homeless now. What do I have to do?’ I gave him a proposal to bring him to safety in western Ukraine. His answer shocked me. He told me, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t want to leave the city, because I spent my whole life here. I want to ask you, mayor, give me weapons, please. I want to defend my city.’”

Some of the residents have been surprised to see Klitschko, who’s been in office since 2014, but he says this is the job of a mayor at war. Before the invasion, he was preparing this year’s budget to fund infrastructure projects and a tourism zone. The summer was supposed to see Kyiv host the World Minifootball Federation’s world championship. “Now we have a totally different priority,” he says, “to save the lives of the people.”

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