Mr Klitschko was a senior leader in the 2014 Maidan Revolution that overthrew a Kremlin-backed leadership and has been a strong supporter of Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president between 2014-19. Mr Zelensky, a stand-up comedian before he entered politics, defeated Mr Poroshenko in the 2019 presidential election.
Mr Klitschko’s interview with 20 Minutes was published on Sunday within hours of a wide-ranging story in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine on the war in Ukraine that also quoted him criticising Mr Zelensky.
Der Spiegel quoted Mr Klitschko as saying that Mr Zelensky has become isolated and that they never meet, even though their offices are only a few minutes walk apart.
He said that only the stubbornness and independence of regional mayors and governors were stopping Ukraine from becoming an autocratic state centred around Mr Zelensky.
“There is currently only one independent institution, but enormous pressure is being exerted on it: local self-government,” he said.
Mr Klitschko also credited local officials and not the central government with holding off Russian attacks in the first few weeks of the war.
As well as being the most senior city mayor in Ukraine, Mr Klitschko is the head of the Ukrainian League of Cities, a political grouping for city leaders.
He said that Kyiv was having to defend itself once again against waves of attacks by Russian drones which target the city’s energy and power infrastructure in what Ukrainian officials have said is a systematic Kremlin campaign to undermine civilian morale.
Mr Klitschko said that the city’s air defence systems shoot down most of the drones but Kyiv was also far more crowded this year, straining its infrastructure and resources.
“Last year, Kyiv was almost empty, now it’s packed. Many have returned, and we have almost half a million refugees here from all over the country,” he said.
Last year, Mr Klitschko had encouraged people to leave Kyiv and Ukraine over winter to lighten the pressure on its power and electricity generating capacities.