Ukraine's leader vows strong reply after aide's car strafed with gunfire

Russia rejects any link to shooting that Kiev sees as attempt to halt reforms

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has vowed that he and his team will not be intimated by an apparent assassination attempt on one of his closest advisers, whose car was riddled with bullets on a highway outside Kiev, injuring his driver.

Serhiy Shefir, a long-time friend of Mr Zelenskiy, was unhurt when his Audi A8 was struck by at least 10 bullets as he was driven from his home into the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday morning. He credited his driver's decision not to stop – despite being hit in the leg by several bullets – with saving both of their lives.

“I’ll tell you honestly, I don’t know who’s behind this . . . Which forces it could be, domestic or foreign. But I don’t consider them to be [serious] forces, because saying ‘hi’ to me with gunshots from the forest at my friend’s car is weakness. But the response will be strong,” Mr Zelenskiy said during a visit to New York.

‘Fight crime’

“It does not affect the strength of our team, the course that I have chosen with my team – to change, to clean up our economy, to fight crime and big, influential financial groups . . . On the contrary – because the Ukrainian people have given me a mandate for changes,” he added.


Members of Mr Zelenskiy's administration said the attack was an attempt to scare him into scrapping a nascent "de-oligarchisation" campaign, which he says will strip shadowy tycoons of their longstanding political power in Ukraine.

"An assassination attempt on Serhiy Shefir is a challenge to our president, and therefore to all of us. We accept this challenge, and we will solve any problems only together," said Andriy Yermak, Mr Zelenskiy's chief of staff.

Ukrainian interior minister Denys Monastyrskiy said, "The president's team will not be scared. The reforms that have been begun – including the battle with organised crime – will continue."

Internal rivalries

He also said it was too soon to talk about any link between the shooting and Russia, which has waged an undeclared war with Ukraine since annexing Crimea in 2014 and fomenting fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed 14,000 people. The Kremlin dismissed any suggestion of a Russian connection to the incident.

Mr Shefir, who worked with Mr Zelenskiy in television for many years before the long-time comedian plunged into politics in 2019, dismissed rumours that the shooting may have its roots in rivalries in the president’s team.

“In the first instant he tried to stop out of shock,” Mr Shefir said of his driver, who was reportedly recovering in hospital after surgery on Wednesday evening.

“But I think if we’d stopped, we wouldn’t be here talking,” Mr Shefir (57) told reporters in Kiev. “I said ‘Go’ and we went – I really think he saved our lives.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe