The strange story of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
This week Canadians will be addressed directly by Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President who is emerging as a war hero and a symbol of his country’s “David and Goliath” resistance to Russian President Putin.
President Zelensky has accepted a standing invitation from Prime Minister Trudeau to deliver a special address to a joint session of Parliament, which he will give remotely on Tuesday, March 15.
His speech will dominate the media, and is sure to galvanize support from Canadians who are already strongly in favour of Canada’s support to Ukraine, according to polls. Volodymyr Zelensky excels in using social media, and Rolling Stone has written about his many smitten admirers sharing their adoration of him on TikTok.
But who is Volodymyr Zelensky? How did he find himself in this position, posting defiant videos from his Kyiv office, while Moscow purportedly tries to assassinate him as its flagging invasion drags on?
As you might imagine, he is no ordinary politician – in fact he’s not really a politician at all.
As one of our favourite podcasts covered this week, The Daily, Volodymyr Zelensky is well-known in Ukraine and Russia as a comedian. He became famous appearing on a program akin to NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Later he was cast as the star of a comedy called, “Servant of the People” about a teacher who unexpectedly becomes the President of Ukraine. The series was popular in both Ukraine and Russia (the dialogue was in Russian). As the fictional president, his character tried to stand up for what was right, drawing comparisons to President Josiah Bartlet played by Martin Sheen in the 90s TV series, “The West Wing.”
As Anton Troianovski, the Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, told The Daily podcast, Zelensky mirrored his fictional character when he unexpectedly announced he was running for Urkainian President – for real – on New Years Eve, 2018. In fact, his political party was named after the TV show “Servant of the People.” Its was as if Martin Sheen ran for U.S. President, and registered his party as, “The West Wing.”
Volodymyr Zelensky went on to win the election by a landslide, and then his rocky relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin put the two men on a collision course.
To get the full story, check out the podcast.
(Cover: KYIV, UKRAINE- April 19, 2019:Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky greets his supporters after debate at Olympiysky Stadium with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. Via Shutterstock)