Months of building trust with the Ukrainian government led to unmatched access to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his travels across Ukraine. It resulted in a powerful all-formats series of stories that made headlines across the world and gave an in-depth portrait of a wartime leader in perpetual motion.

For months, the AP team has been working on improving access to the Kyiv government. Every press conference was followed by another request to sit down with Zelenskyy and show the world his daily life. Much of the heavy lifting was done by the AP’s newly appointed Ukraine correspondent Hanna Arhirova and Kyiv-based photographer Efrem Lukatsky. Visiting managers Susie Blann and Tony Hicks also had pressed AP’s case with the government at the highest levels.  

Persistence paid off. AP was offered an exclusive interview with the president, to be carried out by AP’s Executive Editor and Senior Vice President Julie Pace. She traveled into the country from New York, accompanied by Europe and Africa News Director James Jordan from London. They teamed up with Arhirova, Lukatsky and Prague-based video journalist Adam Pemble, on deployment, for two nights and three days aboard the president’s train.  

The five-person team crammed into the tiny sleeping compartment elbow to elbow during the hourlong interview with Zelenskyy, who grew increasingly relaxed as time passed. Speaking through Pace, Zelenskyy extended an invitation for Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit his country — a major piece of news that was picked up around the world, including by CNN and Reuters with credit to AP. In another widely quoted remark, Zelenskyy warned unless his country wins a monthslong battle in the eastern city of Bakhmut, Russia could begin building international support for a peace deal that could require Ukraine to make unacceptable compromises.  

“If (Russian President Vladimir Putin) will feel some blood — smell that we are weak — he will push, push, push,” Zelenskyy said in English, which he used for virtually all the interview. 

The AP’s main story was datelined “ON A TRAIN FROM SUMY TO KYIV, Ukraine,” with Pace and Arhirova sharing the byline. It was accompanied by photos from Lukatsky and video from Pemble.  

The interview was followed by a deep portrait of Zelenskyy as a family man as well as the leader of his country. Pemble meanwhile captured the trip’s frenetic pace and ubiquitous security in a video feature.  

For their herculean efforts to organize and deliver the meeting, engineering an opportunity for AP to conduct the most extensive embed with the Ukrainian president to date, Arhirova, Lukatsky and Pemble share Best of the Week — First Winner honors. 

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