Davos 2022: Kyiv mayor Klitschko tells delegates 'we are defending you'

Mayor of Ukraine's capital plays air-raid sirens to political and business leaders

Vitali Klitschko, right, and his brother Wladimir speak to the World Economic Forum in Davos. EPA
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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko used an impassioned speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos to hammer home Ukraine’s plea for support in its war against Russia, telling the rich and powerful: “We are defending you personally”.

Mr Klitschko played the sound of air-raid sirens to delegates as he told them the war was killing people about only 2,000 kilometres from the idyllic summit venue where political and business leaders assembled in Switzerland.

The former professional boxer, speaking after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had demanded tougher western sanctions on Russia, said at least 120 civilians had died in Kyiv and 200 apartment buildings been destroyed in the fighting.

“You in Switzerland never hear a siren,” he said. “Any second, a rocket or bomb can land in your building. It’s very close and every one of you has to understand it.”

Mr Klitschko said Ukraine was fighting to be part of the club of the world’s democracies against a Russian leadership which western officials have described as trying to keep its ex-Soviet neighbour in its sphere of influence.

He said the Kremlin saw Ukraine “as part of the Russian empire” and described President Vladimir Putin as having a vision to rebuild the former Soviet Union.

Gesturing at Davos delegates, he said: “We are fighting for our country, defending our family and children, but every one of you has to understand: we are defending you personally.

“We are fighting for values – democratic values. We are fighting, actually, for every one of you, and everyone has to understand that.”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said more than 100 civilians had died in the capital. AFP

Mr Klitschko said four children were among the civilian dead in Kyiv and that another 16 had been taken to hospital with injuries. He said the situation was far worse in other cities less accessible to international media.

Russia refocused its invasion away from Kyiv after failing to capture the capital in the early weeks of the war. Moscow’s troops are now fighting for control of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions where fighting has raged for years.

Ukraine said on Monday it was fighting to keep control of the city of Severodonetsk, where Britain said Russia had deployed its modern Terminator vehicles in a battle for a stronghold still controlled by Ukrainian forces.

Russia said it had destroyed an ammunition depot in Luhansk. Both sides have reported heavy enemy losses, but given scarce details on their own casualties.

Mr Klitschko spoke at Davos on a panel alongside his brother Wladimir, who contrasted the deaths of civilians in towns around Kyiv with Russia’s claim to be carrying out a special operation against Ukraine’s military.

Photos of alleged massacre sites are part of a display at Davos called the “Russian War Crimes House”, previously the Russia House where delegates from Moscow would have attended the summit.

Russia was barred from this year’s forum — the first fully fledged Davos gathering since the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak in January 2020 — while Ukrainian officials are there to lobby for more support.

Speaking at the war crimes display, Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Mr Zelenskyy, said Russia’s apparent impunity in killing civilians meant the “fate of Europe and the world is at stake”.

“Today a new world is being born in my country,” he said. “We are resisting an empire that sees genocide and crimes against humanity as routine, not taboo.”

A Ukrainian court on Monday found a young Russian soldier guilty of war crimes and handed him a life sentence, in the first such verdict during the three-month conflict.

A sergeant from Siberia, Vadim Shishimarin had admitted in court to killing a 62-year-old civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov, in the village of Chupakhivka in north-east Ukraine. Prosecutors said he shot between three and four bullets.

Mr Zelenskyy said Russian assets frozen in other countries should be used to pay for compensation for victims of the war.

“There must be a precedent of punishment for the aggressor and investment in a peaceful life,” he said.

Updated: May 24, 2022, 7:03 AM