נשיא אוקראינה וולודימיר זלנסקי בנאום לפני פתיחת המלחמה נגד רוסיה
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky before start of Russian invasion
Photo: Reuters
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in a message to Ukrainians

Former actor Zelensky emerges as unlikely war hero for Ukraine

After winning the presidency by a landslide in 2014, Ukraine's president had pledged to tackle the corruption and angered Russia by urging NATO to accept his country into the alliance

Reuters |
Updated: 02.25.22, 12:05
Volodymyr Zelensky swept to power three years ago promising to end a war with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He now faces a Russian invasion that could result in the overthrow of his government and the end of Ukrainian democracy.
  • Follow Ynetnews on Facebook and Twitter

  • As invading troops entered the capital and Russia rained missiles down on Ukrainian cities including Kyiv on Friday, Zelensky appealed to all citizens to defend Ukraine.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    נשיא אוקראינה זלנסקי בנאום לילי, 25 בפברואר
    נשיא אוקראינה זלנסקי בנאום לילי, 25 בפברואר
    Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in a message to Ukrainians
    (Photo: AFP)
    "Russia treacherously attacked our state this morning, as Nazi Germany did during World War Two, " Zelensky told Ukrainians in a national address on Thursday.
    "Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won't give up its freedom, no matter what Moscow thinks."
    It is a disastrous outcome for Zelensky, a 44-year-old former comic actor whose increasingly insistent calls over the past two years for NATO to admit Ukraine, an ex-Soviet republic, have infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Moscow had demanded that NATO promise never to take in Ukraine, a country of huge geopolitical, historic and cultural importance to Russia, a demand rebuffed by the West. Putin on Monday rejected Ukraine's right to exist as an independent state, saying it is effectively part of Russia.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    נשיא אוקראינה וולודימיר זלנסקי בנאום לפני פתיחת המלחמה נגד רוסיה
    נשיא אוקראינה וולודימיר זלנסקי בנאום לפני פתיחת המלחמה נגד רוסיה
    Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky before start of Russian invasion
    (Photo: Reuters)
    In recent weeks, Zelensky has drawn praise from Western leaders for his composure and his appeals to Ukrainians not to panic as Russia massed up to 150,000 troops near the border.
    He also criticized foreign embassies and Ukrainian businessmen for leaving Ukraine for security reasons, and renewed his call for companies to stay put, saying they risked inadvertently helping Putin's efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
    Servant of the People
    But Zelensky is an unlikely wartime leader. He shot to fame in a popular television series "Servant of the People" in which he played an honest school teacher who is elected president and outwits crooked lawmakers and shadowy businessmen.
    Winning the presidency by a landslide in April 2019, he pledged to tackle the corruption that has blighted Ukraine's transition from communism to democracy. But Russia has always posed the biggest challenge to his aspirations to build a modern, democratic and stable European country.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    בחירות אוקראינה מועמד קומיקאי יהודי וולודימיר זלנסקי
    בחירות אוקראינה מועמד קומיקאי יהודי וולודימיר זלנסקי
    Ukrainians vote in 2019 elections
    (Photo: EPA)
    His Servant of the People party - named after the TV series - won a big majority in a July 2019 parliamentary election and Zelensky initially pursued confidence-building measures with Russia in eastern Ukraine, including prisoner exchanges.
    But that minor thaw did not last long. Russia, which in 2014 seized Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, continued to back armed separatists battling Kyiv's forces in the mainly Russian-speaking Donbass region of eastern Ukraine in a conflict that Zelensky says has claimed at least 15,000 lives to date.
    Risking Moscow's ire, Zelensky courted Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden at talks in the White House on Sept. 1, 2021.
    "Everyone should understand...that we are at war, that we are defending democracy in Europe and defending our country, and therefore you cannot just talk to us with phrases about reforms," Zelensky said a June 2021 interview.
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    A Ukrainian soldier surrenders to Russian troops in Crimea in 2014
    A Ukrainian soldier surrenders to Russian troops in Crimea in 2014
    A Ukrainian soldier surrenders to Russian troops in Crimea in 2014
    (Photo: EPA)
    "Every day we prove that we are ready to be in the (NATO) alliance more than most of the countries of the European Union."
    A new face
    Zelensky rode a wave of public discontent with Ukraine's corrupt political elite to victory over wealthy businessman Petro Poroshenko in 2019.
    Asked by Reuters ahead of that election how he differed from other presidential hopefuls, Zelensky pointed to his face, saying: "This is a new face. I have never been in politics."
    "I have not deceived people. They identify with me because I am open, I get hurt, I get angry, I get upset... If I'm inexperienced in something, I'm inexperienced. If I don't know something, I honestly admit it."
    5 צפייה בגלריה
    נשיא אוקראינה וולודימיר זלנסקי מגיע לתרגיל צבאי
    נשיא אוקראינה וולודימיר זלנסקי מגיע לתרגיל צבאי
    Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky attends military drill
    (Photo: AFP)
    But despite his promises to curb the influence of tycoons in politics, Zelensky has had to fend off suspicion that he is a puppet of Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch whose TV channel aired "Servant of the People".
    Zelensky was also drawn unwittingly into U.S. politics after a phone call in which then-President Donald Trump tried to get him to investigate his Democratic rival Biden over business deals in Ukraine.
    The Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump after an inquiry concluded he had withheld military aid from Ukraine in order to influence Kyiv. Trump denied wrongdoing and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate later acquitted him.
    First published: 12:02, 02.25.22
    Talkbacks for this article 0