From a Comedian to A Wartime Leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was elected president almost three years ago, has transformed himself from an inexperienced political newbie to a credible wartime leader on the international stage.

In the face of a full-scale invasion by Russian soldiers, the 44-year-old self-declared populist, who was elected with a landslide victory in 2019, has rallied the people of Ukraine. In his speeches and video selfies, he has skillfully used his skills as an actor and performer to express “Ukrainian indignation and defiance of Russian aggression,” according to the BBC.
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Wartime leader

volodymyr zelenskyy controversy

In the early hours of Thursday morning, just before the Russian invasion began, he had a “key moment” in his shift from “a leader flailing in the polls” to “national figurehead.” He added in a somber press conference that he tried to phone Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid a war, but that his attempts at dialogue were met with “silence” from the Kremlin.

In Russia, he warned that a war between Ukraine and Russia was unnecessary, “not a Cold War, nor a Hot War, not a Hybrid War.” However, Zelenskyy stressed that if Ukraine was attacked, it would defend itself. “You will see our faces when you assault us.” Our faces, not our backs.”

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The Sunday Times described it as “the first glimpse of the Ukrainian president finding himself a convincing fit in an odd new role: as an inspirational wartime commander.” He has been “grim-faced and obviously fatigued in subsequent broadcasts, his suit and tie long since replaced by a khaki T-shirt,” but he is nonetheless anxious to emphasize that he and the Ukrainian people are “fighting the enemy together,” according to the daily.

On Friday night, as Russian soldiers approached, he made a short video dispelling rumors that he had fled the capital, recording himself standing in Kyiv surrounded by his ministers. “We are all here to safeguard our independence, our sovereignty,” he said Ukrainians. This is how it will stay for the foreseeable future.
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Our defenders deserve praise. Ukraine, bravo!”

He reportedly turned down a US offer to escape Kyiv on Saturday, telling US authorities that he wanted “ammunition, not a ride.”

According to Time magazine, his decision to remain in the capital was “an act of daring that has already altered the course of history.”

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According to the magazine, he “roused the US and its allies to apply unprecedented sanctions against Russia, smashing the rouble and cutting Russia’s economy off from the rest of the world.”

The West has been compelled to act. Germany has raised military spending by €100 billion, “foregoing a postwar pacifist tradition that has long angered friends.” Meanwhile, Switzerland has broken from its “neutrality heritage” to support sanctions, while the EU has “decided to put Ukraine on a route to membership, overcoming decades of internal reluctance.”

Elections and early life

volodymyr zelenskyy controversy

The Ukrainian leader was born in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s village of Kryvyi Rih in 1978 and studied law before becoming a comedian.

After obtaining a role in the sitcom Servant of the People, in which he played a fictional teacher-turned-president, he became well-known among Ukrainians.

As the show’s popularity rose, he assisted in the formation of a political party with the same name and was chosen as its presidential candidate for the 2019 election.

Prior to the election, the BBC’s Jonah Fisher predicted that Zelenskyy would gain traction by appealing to voters fed up with entrenched corruption, low living standards, and years of political volatility.

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“He’s ripped up the election campaigning rule book by conducting no rallies and giving few interviews, instead of relying on social media to appeal to younger voters,” he continued. “Apart from a desire to be new and unusual, he appears to have no strong political convictions.

He campaigned against controversial and vehemently anti-Russian President Petro Poroshenko, who took office in 2014 after a violent coup against his predecessor Victor Yanukovich. Despite Poroshenko’s warning that Zelenskyy was inexperienced and that under his administration, Ukraine “maybe soon restored to Russia’s orbit of influence,” Zelenskyy won by a landslide, garnering 73 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Poroshenko.

Record in power

Following his presidential campaign’s assistance from oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyy, some thought Zelenskyy would be nothing more than a “puppet leader, controlled by a man who is under investigation in the US for alleged fraud and money-laundering,” according to the BBC.

volodymyr zelenskyy controversy

In many ways, however, Zelenskyy has proven to be “more independent than the skeptics thought,” despite the fact that “corruption remains deeply rooted in Ukraine” and some Western officials are concerned that the corruption charges brought by Zelenskyy against his predecessor Poroshenko are “politically motivated.”

According to the Associated Press, “the bravery of Zelenskyy’s commitment for Ukraine’s sovereignty” is surprising coming from a guy “whose main political liability for many years was the sense that he was too prone to seek compromise with Moscow.”

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During his presidential campaign, Zelenskyy stated that he would negotiate peace with Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and is supporting separatist forces in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, resulting in a conflict that has already claimed the lives of an estimated 15,000 people.

However, his attempts to deal with Russia were only partially successful. Under Putin’s “insistence that Ukraine back away from the West,” Zelenskyy was able to organize a prisoner swap and proceed toward implementing sections of the Minsk agreements, but his “efforts for reconciliation collapsed.”

As his popularity in Ukraine plunged – to as low as 20% in some polls – he began to adopt a “more forceful tone in pressing for membership of the European Union and the Nato military alliance,” according to the BBC, “a move that was guaranteed to enrage Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

However, the former comic has transformed from “a provincial politician with illusions of grandeur into a bona fide statesman” in the last week, according to Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center for Foreign Affairs.

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Despite Zelenskyy’s “grave” failure to reform Ukraine so far – his party has spent much of 2021 “dragging their feet on badly-needed judicial and anti-corruption measures” – he has maintained “a stiff upper lip” in the face of Putin’s attacks.

“He has shown incredible physical courage by refusing to sit in a bunker and instead of touring openly with soldiers,” Haring wrote. “He has also shown an unshakeable patriotism that few anticipated from a Russian speaker from eastern Ukraine.” “To his great credit,” she remarked, Zelenskyy has remained unmovable.