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He is supposedly being lined up by Vladimir Putin as the future leader of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.

But in Kyiv, few have even heard of Yevhen Murayev – and those who recognise the name doubt that he wields enough influence to govern the country.

At Maidan Square, the crucible of Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, the Daily Telegraph was met with puzzled looks when Mr Murayev’s name was mentioned.

Gregory, a 41-year-old souvenir seller, says he is not familiar with Mr Murayev, a former MP and TV host. But he is not surprised by British intelligence claims that plans are underway in Moscow to install its own government in Kyiv.

“It’s always been like this, the Kremlin has always wanted to put a pro-Russian government in Ukraine,” he says.

Nastya, an actress, shakes her head when asked if she has heard of Mr Murayev. But, as Russia gathers some 100,000 troops at Ukraine’s borders, she is confident that Ukraine is well equipped to deal with the worst-case scenario of an invasion.

“The Ukrainian military is in good shape, we have the potential to fight back an invasion,” she says. “And there is a possibility to solve this in a diplomatic way.”

The 27-year-old adds that if the worst did happen, she would even consider joining the army to fight back: “If I have to, I will.”

An Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, looks on in a dugout on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Gorlivka An Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, looks on in a dugout on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Gorlivka Credit: afp/afp

Viktor, a bus network manager, has a vague idea of who Mr Murayev is, but thinks he is too small-time to be a valuable candidate.

“This is real, Moscow wants their own candidate, but this guy specifically, it’s impossible,” he says. “He’s not a popular guy. No one has heard of him.”

However, the Telegraph did find one man in Kyiv with less harsh words for Mr Murayev: 41-year-old Maxim, who makes a living by selling fountain pens.

“I’ve heard about him, he has a TV channel. He is someone who always speaks his own mind and never hides his opinion,” he says, adding that he doubted a Russian invasion of Ukraine was on the cards.

Mr Murayev, who has condemned the 2014 revolution as a Western-backed coup, has laughed off reports that he is a potential candidate to lead a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.

According to a poll by the Razumkov’s Centre think tank conducted in December 2021, he was ranked seventh among candidates for the 2024 presidential election, with just 6.3 per cent support. He founded his own political movement after breaking away from Ukraine’s most popular pro-Russian party,

Maryna Bardina, an MP from president Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, describes him as “young, ambitious” and “completely pro-Russian” but sorely lacking in mainstream support.

“In the Autumn, he tried to launch a political project – ‘Let’s talk about Ukraine of the future’. He put up boards in some cities. But somehow it did not take off and went unnoticed,” she says.

Russia-Ukraine crisis over the years

Over the weekend, Mr Murayev posted a number of cryptic statements on Facebook which flirted with the notion of a new leadership in Ukraine, though not an explicitly Russian-led one.

“The time of pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine is gone forever,” he said in one post. “Ukraine needs new politicians whose policy will be based solely on the principles of the national interests of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

When approached for comment by the Telegraph on Saturday, Mr Murayev dismissed the UK intelligence claim as “stupidity and nonsense.”

“Maybe someone wants to shut down yet another independent TV channel,” he speculated.

“As someone who has been under Russian sanctions for four years, barred from Russia as a national security threat and whose father got his assets frozen in Russia, I find it hard to comment on the Foreign Office’s statement,” he added.

He would later post a photoshopped image on Facebook of himself mocked up as James Bond, a tongue-in-cheek reference to catching the attention of British intelligence officers.

In the image, based on a poster for the 2012 film Skyfall starring Daniel Craig, a tuxedo-wearing Mr Murayev holds a pistol as he gazes enigmatically at the camera.

But for this international man of mystery, the real conundrum is how he could hold much sway in Kyiv with such a low public profile.

Additional reporting by Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Tanya Kozyreva

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