Kay Burley: The story behind our world exclusive interview with Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy

“The president will see you now.”
We had been working with our contacts for months and the call finally came with just 36 hours’ notice.

We needed to make our way from London to Kyiv, a war zone, and be ready for the interview.
We scrambled – the team were all over the UK, including in the pub – and came together at Luton Airport in the early hours of the next morning.
Flying to Moldova took just three hours – it was difficult for me to process that war was so close to home.

Arriving with all the camera gear, body armour and what I thought would be appropriate clothing to interview a wartime leader in a besieged capital city, we decanted from the plane and into two sturdy vehicles.

The journey across the border to Kyiv would take about 10 hours, and the seven-person team settled in.
Bumping along potholed roads in the dark was at best uncomfortable, but we had a deadline to beat – curfew was at 11pm and if we didn’t make the hotel by then we’d need to stay outside the city for the night.
Watch: In full: Kay Burley’s interview with President Zelenskyy


The regular border crossing was closed and so we had to opt for a longer route which added time that we just didn’t have.
We eventually reached the outskirts of the city, driving along a road where a Sky News crew had almost lost their lives when Russian soldiers took aim at their vehicle some months before.
Finally, we reached the hotel with 10 minutes to spare.
Up early the next morning and we headed to the presidential palace for the interview everyone wanted – a chat with Mr Zelenskyy about NATO, tanks, family, President Putin, and as much else as we could fit into the allocated hour.

Security was intense, heavily armoured personnel stalked the grounds; airport-style scanners checked every piece of our camera equipment; our phones and laptops were confiscated and locked far away from the president.
Sandbags were piled high everywhere – including in the ladies’ loo; our passports were checked and checked and checked again.
There had been a spelling error on one of the crew’s names which caused much consternation, but finally we were cleared to proceed and made our way to the allocated room.
The angle for the interview was chosen in conjunction with the president’s team, they wanted hard-backed, nondescript chairs as with all his previous interviews.
Watch: President Zelenskyy gives Sky’s Kay Burley an insight into his daily life and family
I thought leather chesterfields would be more fitting for the chat I had in mind – not just with a politician at war but also a father who was trying to keep his family safe too.
After much discussion, it was agreed the sofas could work. Great, let’s go. The clock was ticking and the crew set up swiftly in preparation for the interview we’d planned for months.
Then we waited. And waited. And waited… the delay eating into our precious allotted time.
I walked into a chilly, dimly lit hallway and stopped at the bottom of a sweeping marble staircase.

The juxtaposition seemed incongruous, but war has created an energy crisis in Ukraine and wasting fuel on heat and light isn’t necessary, I was told.
Eventually, the president arrived. Bounding down the staircase he offered profuse apologies.
He’d been talking to a world leader – he did say who, but I wasn’t really listening – our interview time was slashed in half and I was mentally editing my questions as we walked towards the interview room.
We sat, the interview began “how are you, Mr President?” and then a moment that may prove to be a pivotal point in the war, caught on camera.
I was asking about Leopard 2 tanks and how important they would be to Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield.
The German leader, Olaf Scholz, had continued to be nervous about sending the vehicles that would be used against Russian forces.

President Zelenskyy had started his reply and was beginning his regular appeal to the German chancellor when he was quickly interrupted by his aide, who had placed himself in the president’s eye-line for the interview.
Mr Scholz had that very second announced that he would send tanks. The moment caught on camera.
The president looked relieved, allowed himself a wry smile and told our viewers he would speak to the leader as soon as our interview had ended.
Time will tell if it was a moment that turned the future of this war.
Too soon our time was up and the president quickly posed for a few photographs before leaving for his much-anticipated phone call with the German leader.

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We rang London to share the news.
“Do you have it on tape?”
“File as soon as you can.”
We edited late into the night and into the next morning before relocating to St Michael’s Square to set up for the breakfast programme.

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In full: Zelenskyy interview
The burnt-out carcasses of Russian tanks have been dragged into the Kyiv landmark, a daily reminder of how close the enemy came to taking the capital.
The snow began to fall as air raid sirens were sounding, warning missiles could be landing nearby, but Nick, our security man, was calm and thus so was I. A deep breath and we were on air.
Three hours later the programme was over and our interview was making headlines around the world including at the Kremlin, furious that Mr Zelenskyy had labelled President Putin a “nobody”.
We packed up our gear and clambered into a cramped people carrier for the 15-hour drive to Warsaw; home, and then the next opportunity.
Stay tuned.

Source : Sky News