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Ukraine’s President has been internationally lauded for his handling of his country’s invasion by Russia – but the man behind the videos has had a far more colourful rise to power than you might think.
Despite being named “Russia’s Number one target”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has refused to leave Kyiv, instead continuously posting video updates addressing the “heroic” Ukrainian people from the government headquarters where he’s sheltering.
But in a former life, Zelenskyy was an actor who played the Ukrainian president on a TV show called Servant Of The People, until 2018 when he decided to run for the top job, for real this time.
Who is President Zelenskyy? 8 need-to-knows
1. He was born in Kryvyi Rih
Born in Russian-speaking Kryvyi Rih in Eastern Ukraine to Jewish parents, Zelenskyy, 44, studied law at Kyiv Economic University.
2. He was part of a comedy troupe
Despite his legal training, Zelenskyy was always more interested in comedy and went on to form the award winning comedy troupe, Kvartal 95.
3. He’s been in movies, too
After years of touring around many post-Soviet countries and extensively in Moscow, Zelenskyy established himself as a leading man in a slew of Ukrainian Rom-coms. He appeared in several feature films including Love in the Big City, 8 Dates and even recorded the Ukrainian dubbing of both the Paddington Bear films.
4. His presidential bid was largely social
In 2019, Zelenskyy decided to make a drastic career change, launching his presidential bid, that was allegedly funded by Igor Kolomoisky – one of Ukraine’s richest, and rumour has it, most corrupt oligarchs.
Unconventionally Zelenskyy and his new party – also called Servant of the People – conducted the majority of his presidential bid on social media, continuing to tour with his Kvartal 95 comedy troupe and mocking his opponents in viral videos.
5. His manifesto is anti corruption-focused
His manifesto was largely centred around ending corruption in Ukrainian politics and advocating for national unity in the traditionally separatist Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, the first area to come under siege last week.
6. He won the presidential election by a landslide
In a scenario that would have seemed surreal even in one of his old sitcoms, Zelenskyy won the presidency by a landslide and has gone on to become a surprisingly effectual and progressive leader.
7. He’s being lauded as a pinnacle of bravery
Since Putin and Russian troops invaded Ukraine last week, Zelenskyy has come into his own as president, lauded by international leaders as a pinnacle of bravery and statesmanship as a result of his refusal to leave the capital Kyiv and abandon his people.
In a video address released right after midnight on Friday in Ukraine, Zelensky said the Russians “want to destroy Ukraine politically by taking down the head of state.”
“I am staying in the government quarters together with others,” Zelensky said. “The enemy has designated me as target number one, and my family as target number two.”
8. He’s striving for peace
He has continued to post on social media over the weekend, appearing unshaven and wearing a casual, military green sweatshirt to rally the Ukrainian people and and implore foreign leaders for further sanctions against Russia.
Today Zelenskyy has agreed to send a Ukrainian delegation to negotiate with Russia near Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
“I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try, so that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as president, tried to stop the war,” Mr Zelensky said on Sunday.