Before becoming president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky played a president. Before having to face the Russian invasionBeing at the forefront of a resistance that was believed to fall faster than it has been, saving himself from several attempts on his life, and the whole world having its eyes on him, Zelensky was a comedian and actor. .
The current president of Ukraine and perhaps the figure who has represented the heroism of the Ukrainian resistance, when growing up in Kryvyi Rih, in the southeast of what was then still the Soviet Union, decided to study law. However, once he graduated, he realized that he had a gift for acting. Profession to which he dedicated himself and that catapulted him to fame.
(Follow the minute by minute of the Russian invasion in Ukraine)
He hosted a comedy show, Liga Smeha (“Laughter League”), and won Ukraine’s Dancing With the Stars in 2006. He also voiced the titular cartoon bear in the Ukrainian version of Paddington. And in 2010 he became one of the most popular performers of Ukrainian entertainment with his TV series: Servant of the People. In the show, Zelensky played Vasyl Holoborodko, an idealistic school teacher whose daily fight was against corruption. and that when his students record him and his speech ends up online and goes viral, he ends up building momentum to the presidency. And so, just as it ended up happening to Zelensky off screen.
The show, although it was a comedy, ended up leaving a message in the Ukrainian people and was so popular that Zelensky founded a political party that bears the name of the program: “Servant of the people”. His landslide victory in the presidential elections at the beginning of 2019. He won 73.17 percent of the vote compared to just 24.5 percent for Petro. O. Poroshenko, the then president of the country.
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At that time the international media headlined: “TV comedian is president of Ukraine”. In addition, they highlighted how serious his lack of experience in government could be and at the head of an army that by then had already been at war for more than five years against pro-Russian independence fighters in the eastern part of the country in the Donbas region.
Zelensky’s opponents said he was doomed to disaster because of his inexperience and his supporters thought he would stamp out corruption. Some even went so far as to point out that he would sell the country to the Russians.
During the campaign, Zelensky avoided populist themes such as hostility towards immigrants and minorities. Also, at the time, Ukrainians worried less about foreigners coming in and more about how many of their people went to work in Poland and other richer countries in Europe, according to an article in The New York Times. And it is that even before the war, Ukraine already had the lowest per capita economic output in Europe.
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I was going down
“Ukrainians elected Zelensky in reaction to politicians’ betrayal of the ideals of the Maidan Square protests in 2013 and 2014, which they were trying to remove Ukraine from Russia’s direct sphere of influence”, assured the professor of international relations of The new school, Nina L. Khrushcheva in an article that she published in the Project Syndicate entitled: Ukraine puts on the clown.
For her part, the Ukrainian journalist and editor-in-chief of The Kiev Independent, Porolga Rudenko, took aim at Zelensky in a column she published in The New York Times before the start of the war: “After her almost three years in office, it is clear what the problem is: Zelensky’s tendency to treat everything as a spectacle. Gestures, for him, are more important than consequences. Strategic goals are sacrificed for short-term benefits. The words he uses don’t matter, as long as they’re entertaining. And when the reviews are bad, he stops listening and surrounds himself with fans.”
And, despite his campaign promises, little progress has been made in the fight against corruption. According to Transparency International, Ukraine remains the third most corrupt country in Europe, after Russia and Azerbaijan. Even before the conflict broke out, scandals and few actions against corruption undermined Zelensky’s popularity. In polls taken at the time, 62 percent of Ukrainians did not want him to run for re-election.
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One of the scandals that affected him the most was from the splashes of Donald Trump’s policies. As Khrushcheva explained in a Project Syndicante article at the time, Zelensky had not even officially taken over from him when Trump’s consigliere, former New York mayor and anti-mafia prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani announced his plans to visit Kiev. His goal was to persuade Zelensky to collaborate in an illegitimate investigation against Hunter Biden. (son of President Joe Biden), former member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, one of the largest energy companies in Ukraine.
At the time, Biden was leading the pack of Democratic candidates seeking to compete with Trump in the 2020 presidential election, “the proposal to Zelensky was a poisoned chalice,” says Khrushcheva.
With the outbreak of war, Zelensky has surprised and become an unexpected hero. He embodies the essence of commander-in-chief of a country that resists being invaded by Russian forces. What’s more, he has earned the respect of the Ukrainians as he has refused to flee from Kiev and on the contrary, he has walked through the streets of the city and has urged the Ukrainians to continue resisting. “Zelensky’s leadership has reaffirmed Ukrainian resolve,” says an article in The Washington Post.
Zelenski, 44 years old, constantly appears in front of the cameras with a tired face, a beard that grows more every day and dressed as a soldier, to send messages of strength to his people, to ask the Russians to stop and to ask for international help.
Despite being offered sanctuary by the United States, the president said: “We need weapons, not a ride.” And he has incited his Ukrainian people to resist with whatever they can. “Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.”
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He himself has said that at this time is the “number one target of the Kremlin”. Their resistance has inspired the Ukrainian people to keep fighting and stand up to the outnumbered Russian troops. At the beginning of the invasion it was believed that Kiev would fall within days. Ukraine has barely 200,000 active available soldiers, compared to 850,000 Russian troops.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to justify the invasion as a denazification operation. There is an anecdote that exemplifies very well the incoherence of this justification of Putin. Because Zelensky is not only Jewish, but his grandfather, Semyon Ivanovich Zelensky, fought in the Red Army of the Soviet Union against the Nazis during World War II. Even a few days later, in 2019, Zelensky would become the first Jew to be president of Ukraine, he went to visit his grandfather’s grave and left him some flowers.
That same day, he posted on his Facebook about him: “Thank you for making the inhumane ideology of Nazism forever a thing of the past. Thanks to those who fought against Nazism and won”, according to The Washington Post. But in addition, it should be noted that not only is Zelenski Jewish but also His relatives were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust..
In the war
Before the invasion, Zelensky tried to play down warnings from the West about an impending Russian invasion. However, once the attack began, he has not stopped appealing to both the European Union and NATO to grant Ukraine membership. “We have shown our strength,” Zelensky told the European Parliament in a speech. So prove that you are with us. Show that you are really European, he told them.
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Meanwhile, as revealed by the British newspaper The Times, President Zelensky has survived at least three assassination attempts in a single week. Apparently, behind the assassination attempts is a group known as Wagner, an organization related to the Kremlin that has already participated in other conflicts and whose actions can be denied because it is not directly linked to the Russian army. The leader of this group is Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as ‘Putin’s chef’.
Apparently, according to The Time, at this moment the main objective of the Kremlin would be for a group of mercenaries to assassinate President Zelensky, and that way it would be more difficult to trace the crime to Putin. Without a doubt, Zelensky’s death would be a heavy blow to the Ukrainian resistance. It would be the downfall of the comedian who became president and unexpected hero.
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SIMON FARM MATIAS
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