RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP via Getty Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
As Russian launched its war with Ukraine more than six weeks ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was reportedly offered safe passage out of the country but chose to stay in Kyiv.
That decision, he said in a new interview, was made with clarity of mind and the support of his family.
“When everyone is telling you, ‘You need to go,’ you need to think,” he told CBS News’ Scott Pelley in a segment that aired Sunday on 60 Minutes. “Before I do anything, I analyze the situation. I’ve always done it calmly, without any chaos. I might not be the strongest warrior. But I’m not willing to betray anyone.”
Pelley conducted the interview from inside a command center in Ukraine’s capital – which he called a “fortress,” noting its “blacked-out hallways” that were “crowded with troops, machine guns, mines, explosives” and sleeping troops.
“We found a way to work. We don’t have another way,” Zelenskyy, 44, said, speaking to Pelley with the help of a translator. “It has to be dark in here. You can’t switch the lights on because a bomb could just fly in, during an airstrike.”
If air raid sirens wail, “we head downstairs,” the president said.
Zelenskyy previously said he was focused on work and sleep, with few opportunities to see his family, including his wife, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska, and their children, Oleksandra, 17, and 9-year-old Kyrylo, who are all reportedly in an undisclosed location.
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olenazelenska_official / Instagram Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wife Olena Zelenska and their two children
“I told them this is my choice” to stay and not flee, Zelenskyy said, despite being considered a target for Russian forces. “And I can’t do it any other way. I’m the president of my country. I’m the president of our people. And even if I wasn’t president, I would have stayed here. [My family] understood. Not only understood, but fully supported my decision. Fully. “
His decision could have cost him his life – and although Russian forces failed to take Kyiv in their initial invasion, the president like so many others across the country remains in danger as deadly attacks continue.
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“I don’t want to make myself out to be a hero. I love my family. I want to live many more years, but choosing between running or being with my people, of course I’m ready to give my life for my country, “Zelenskyy said on 60 Minutes.
As he remained in Kyiv, the president has made a point of venturing out into city streets to address Ukrainians and visit the wounded. He also made appearances via video before the United Nations, the US Congress and even at the Grammys.
He’s held talks with President Joe Biden and other world leaders, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson who met Zelenskyy on his turf during a secretly planned visit over the weekend in what Downing Street called a “show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” according to The Washington Post.
Presidency of Ukraine / Handout / Anadolu Agency / Getty Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
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“Surprise,” the Ukrainian Embassy in London said in a tweetadding a winking emoji and a photo of the two leaders at a conference table.
Johnson also posted video of his visit Saturday that showed him and Zelenskyy walking through Kyiv surrounded by armed guards.
“Over the past few hours I’ve been able to see quite a lot of your beautiful country and it’s an amazing country. I’ve also seen the tragic effects of the war,” Johnson said in a voiceover for the video. “I have no doubt that an independent sovereign Ukraine will rise again.”
Zelenskyy thanked the British leader for the visit, calling him “our most sincere friend,” the Post reports.
“You came here, and we are especially grateful that this happened – this is a true reflection of the decisive and significant support to Ukraine from the United Kingdom,” he said, “and we are always grateful for that, we shall always remember that . “
Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched their large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 – the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.
Details of the fighting change by the day, but thousands of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children, though the actual number of deaths is difficult to determine.
More than 4 million have fled the country as refugees – and half are children, according to the United Nations. Millions more have been displaced inside Ukraine.
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The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.
With NATO forces amassed in the region, various countries are offering aid or military support to the resistance. Zelenskyy has called for peace talks – so far unsuccessful – while urging his country to fight back.
Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.
“Nobody is going to break us, we’re strong, we’re Ukrainians,” he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, “Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness. . “T
The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE’s complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.