Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has emerged as a resolute and unifying wartime leader for his country during the first days of the Russian invasion, calmly delivering defiant speeches from his phone on the darkened streets of Kyiv.
The big picture: It’s a role few could imagine Zelensky playing when he won the presidency in 2019, his closest qualification being playing a president on television.
Here’s what to know about the actor-turned-leader:
- Zelensky, 44, was a comedian and actor before soundly defeating former President Petro Poroshenko with more than 70% of the vote in 2019.
- Zelensky had no prior political experience before becoming president and named his political party after the television sitcom on which he played a president, “Servant of the People.”
- “Throughout my entire life, I’ve tried to do everything so Ukrainians smiled,” Zelensky said during his inauguration speech, per Politico. “In the next five years, I will do everything so that you, Ukrainians, don’t cry.”
- Three months after entering office, Zelensky, then 41, was thrust into the centre of former President Trump’s first impeachment inquiry after the U.S. withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
- Zelensky’s approval ratings dropped in the months leading up to Russia’s invasion amid economic consequences from the pandemic and the war in Donbas persisted Politico notes.
State of play: Now, the political neophyte is rallying his country as Russian military forces continue to press forward, outnumbering Ukraine in personnel and supplies.
- Zelensky has turned down an American offer to evacuate, saying “the fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
- “I’m here. We are not putting down any arms. We will protect our country because our weapons are our truth,” he said on Saturday, despite believing that he is Russia’s “number one” target for capture or assassination.
The bottom line: “He has some shortcomings,” a woman who would give only her first name, Ekaterina, told Politico of Zelensky.
- “[But] we must unite. I support him very much at this moment. Because he is the nation’s leader. In difficult times, we must support our country.”