Volodymyr Zelensky: Actor turned Wartime President


By Kate Orozco, Art/Photography Editor

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

On the morning of February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the nation and informed his people the war had begun. The Ukrainian Armed Forces recently launched a counteroffensive, liberating dozens of villages in southern and eastern Ukraine. They also liberated the city of Izium in the Kharkiv Oblast, the city held by Russians for over six months. Around the world, Ukrainians have been praised for their bravery and resistance. They have resisted Russian forces for almost seven months. President Zelensky has been praised for his leadership and for not leaving Ukraine. Zelensky famously said, “I need ammunation, not a ride” after the US offered him to leave Ukraine and be safe. 85% of Ukrainians approve of Zelensky’s leadership. But who is Volodymyr Zelensky?


Volodymyr Zelensky was born in a Jewish family on January 25, 1978. He grew up speaking Russian in his family. (Most Ukrainians know both Russian and Ukrainian since they learn both languages in school.) The Russian Federation and Russian president Vladimir Putin accused the Ukrainian government and Zelensky of being Nazis. Putin said he launched the so-called “special military operation” to “libertate Ukraine from Nazis,” even though Zelensky is Jewish. 


When Zelensky was 17, he joined the KVN comedy competition, where groups performed comedy sketches and toured multiple places in Eastern Europe. He performed in KVN’s Major League, and his team won in 1997. After they won, he created his own team called Kvartal 95 and performed from 1998-2003. 


Later on, Zelensky starred in many Ukrainian and Russian movies like 8 First Dates in 2012 and the sequels in 2015 and 2016. He also recorded the voice of Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian dubbing of Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017). In 2015, he became the star of the comedy series The Servant of the People (Sluga Naroda). In the series, Zelensky played the role of a high school history teacher that won the Presidential election after a video of his ranting about the corruption in Ukraine goes viral. 


Ukrainian Media reported that Kvartal 95 (Zelensky’s production company) donated 1 million hryvnias ($27,000 USD) to the Ukrainian military to help them in the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2014. His works were banned in Russia after. 


In March 2018, Zelensky and the members of the production company Kvartal 95 registered a new political party called “The Servant of the People.” People speculated at the time that Zelensky might announce his run for president. Zelensky’s team said that they registered the party so no one would steal the name. 


About six months from the presidential election, in October 2018, Zelensky was the front runner for president in opinion polls. Finally on December 31, 2018, he announced his run for president on the New Year’s Show on the 1+1 channel just before then-president and Zelensky’s rival Petro Poroshenko’s New Year’s address. 


Zelensky defined himself as anti-establishment and anti-corruption. He was not described as populist. He promised to restore trust in politicians after years of corruption. Also, he promised to develop Ukraine’s economy and attract investors by reforming the judicial system. During his campaign, he still did his shows on Kvartal 95 with his team all across Ukraine. 


Zelensky ended up winning the first round of the presidential election on March 31, 2019. In the second round, he won by a landslide by receiving 73 percent of the votes, while Poroshenko got only 25 percent. 


President Zelensky was inaugurated on May 20, 2019. Zelensky is the first Jewish president of Ukraine, making Ukraine the first country other than Israel to have a Jewish head of state. Zelensky dissolved the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) and held early parliamentary elections. 


In June of 2021, Zelensky proposed a bill that would create a public registry of Ukrainian Oligarchs. They would be banned from participating in private state owned companies and donating money to politicians. The opposition party leaders supported this bill since this would decrease the influence of oligarchs on Ukrainian politics. However, they were critical of his approach. They said that the public register would be ineffective since oligarchs symbolized major corruption. However, the bill was passed into law in September 2021. 


As an actor and entertainer, Zelensky had strong communication skills. His speeches and addresses have proven that. Just recently, he spoke at the UN general assembly, calling to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its actions in Ukraine. His speeches have called for resistance against Russia and the will to fight against the aggressor and have led to him receiving international praise from leaders.


Ever since the war started, Zelensky’s leadership has gained major international praise. He has also become the symbol of Ukrainian resistance with the people standing with their president. In new opinion polls, people have rated him as one of Ukraine’s best presidents. As most of Europe supports Ukraine, Zelensky still symbolizes the fight for freedom and democracy.