Comedian to Commander: Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President Defending Ukraine
The 44-year-old was a political novice when he was elected the President of Ukraine in 2019.
If you would have asked anyone in Ukraine who Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in 2017, they would have all unanimously said – "the most popular television comedian of our times."
One of Zelenskyy's most popular acts was when he played the piano with his private parts for five minutes, in an attempt at satire.
Almost five years later, Zelenkskyy is the head of Ukraine, and the chief defender against Russia's military invasion into the country.
In a late night message on Friday, 25 February, Zelenskyy assured his citizens that he will not flee the country.
“I am staying in the government quarters together with others. The enemy has designated me as target number one, and my family as target number two,” he said.
The 44-year-old, at the helm as Ukraine faces the biggest crisis in Europe since the second world war, was a political novice when he was elected the president in 2019.
From experts to Ukrainian citizens, many have pointed how the former comedian has not just risen to the occasion, but has also taken the world by surprise in doing so.
A Career Satirist
Volodymyr Zelenskyy was born in January 1978 in Kryvyi Rih, once an industrial city in Soviet Union, situated now in southern Ukraine.
Born to Jewish parents, he attended school in Kryvyi Rih and spoke Russian, akin to the people of his region. In 1995, the leader entered Kryvyi Rih Economic Institute – Kiev National Economic University's local campus – and graduated with a law degree in 2000.
However, his keen interest in the performing arts led him to acting in comedy troupes and eventually, landed him a role of a history teacher in the 'Servant of the People,' a TV show which aired between 2015 and 2019.
The show, satirising Ukraine's corruption and portraying a longing for a democratic country, became an instant hit among the Ukrainian people, who were witnessing a tumultuous post-Soviet transition.
In 2019, Zelenskyy declared his candidature for the presidential position – allegedly bankrolled by one of Ukraine’s richest – and most corrupt – oligarchs, Igor Kolomoisky.
Witnessing a meteoric rise, Zelenskyy went on to defeat the incumbent President Poroshenko, and was elected by a landslide 73.2 percent of the votes.
He was sworn in as Ukraine's sixth president on 20 May 2019. While many thought he would be Kolomoisky's puppet, Zelenskyy proved otherwise.
A Turbulent Incumbency
As the hybrid war in eastern Ukraine raged on, Zelenskyy sought to end the conflict, attempting diplomatic dialogue with Russia. While there were talks, prisoner exchanges, and action aimed at implementing parts of a peace process termed as the Minsk agreements, they were never fully implemented.
A separate hurdle faced the newly elected leader when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his offer of issuing Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens living in separatist-controlled areas of war-torn eastern regions of the country in 2019.
Responding with a barb, the young leader took to Facebook to offer the citizenship of Ukraine to anyone who "suffer from authoritarian or corrupt regimes.”
He took a more staunch position when he pushed for Ukraine's membership to the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
Zelenskyy was also embroiled in a controversy in July 2019 when then United States (US) President Donald Trump asked him for "a favour" during a phone call.
The former US president had asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate corruption allegations against his then political rival Joe Biden in exchange for military aid.
After a whistle-blower publicised the phone call, the president denied any quid pro quo.
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