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Puck welcomes John Heilemann as its Chief Political Columnist!

Life and Death and in Between in Kyiv

Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
April 11, 2022

When Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky toured Bucha and Irpin last Monday, at his side was his aide Serhiy Leshchenko. I first met Serhiy in 2014, through Mustafa Nayyem, when the two of them successfully ran for the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, on the heels of the Maidan revolution. Like Mustafa, Serhiy had also been a star investigative journalist, exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Ukrainian government. Even while he served in government, however, Serhiy’s investigative instincts never left him. In August 2016, he revealed the secret ledgers showing illicit cash payments to Paul Manafort, which ended Manafort’s run as Donald Trump’s campaign manager and began his downfall.  

At the end of last week, I spoke to Serhiy. I wanted to ask him about what it was like to tour the sites of atrocities committed by the Russian army, and he agreed readily. He scheduled the interview for midnight, Kyiv time, only to then push it off by an hour because he just wasn’t done with work yet. To say that he sounded exhausted after six weeks of war and living in the Ukrainian president’s office would be an understatement. I could barely hear him on the line. His voice was so faint that I had to listen to my recording of the interview surrounded by perfect silence in order to transcribe what he was saying. It was well worth it. I hope you find our conversation, which has been translated, condensed, and edited for clarity, as interesting and provocative as I did.