Looking serious but exhausted, a two-day beard, dressed in a military shirt and a green fleece jacket, Volodymyr Zelenskiy looks straight into the camera. “Tonight, on all fronts, the enemy will use all available forces to break our resistance,” he said, in a message to the nation recorded after the first day of attacks launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin against the Ukraine.
Some 24 hours earlier, when the worst predictions had yet to come true, he addressed the Russian people and called on them to oppose the assault on their country. “Listen to the voice of reason,” he said in Russian. “The Ukrainian people want peace.
The strategy failed. For three days, the head of the Kremlin ordered an offensive against Ukraine by land, sea and air, on the grounds that the country is fictitious, the result of historical and diplomatic stitches.
A former comedy actor and self-taught businessman, Zelenskiy debunks much of the Kremlin’s propaganda about Ukraine and its government, which has been described as a “group of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”, in addition to being a place where speaking Russian is forbidden and citizens of the Donbass region are victims of “genocide”.
Zelenskiy was born 44 years ago in Kryvyi Rih, a town in the Dnipro region. He was from a “Soviet Jewish” family, as he once described it – that is, not so religious in a regime where religion was suppressed.
He told Russian citizens about it this week in another of his moving messages, in which he called for the attack to be called off. He also talked about his grandfather, Semyon Ivanovich Zelenski, a veteran of the Red Army during World War II.
Since the start of the Russian invasion, Zelenskiy, who had lost popularity among voters due to his sometimes erratic policies and instances of corruption among his allies, grew as a leader. The former actor, who is an expert in managing the language and directing of television and social media, has reached a major milestone in terms of the information he conveys to Ukrainians, emotional videos that he posts online and patriotic messages that have seen his popularity return. “We will fight as long as necessary,” he said on Saturday, after the Kremlin threatened to step up its attacks.
He also repeatedly underlined the fact that European leaders have abandoned Ukraine to their fate in the face of Putin’s threats. “If you, my dear world leaders, leaders of the free world, do not help Ukraine with force now, tomorrow war will be at your doorstep,” he warned in one of these speeches.
The Ukrainian president presented arguments contrary to the Kremlin narratives and compared Russia to Nazi Germany. “Our countries are on different sides of world history,” he said. “Russia is on the wrong path.”
Zelenskiy was initially seen as a political lightweight and an easy target for Putin. But now he plays the commander of a country at war, who resists a harsh offensive of a nuclear state and whose troops and resources easily exceed his own.
Ukrainian and US secret services have warned that one of the Kremlin’s main goals is to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with a Moscow puppet regime. And to do that, Zelenskiy must be ousted. The United States advised him to leave the country, or at least the capital. But the Ukrainian leader has insisted that he and his family will remain in Kyiv.
Zelenskiy won the 2019 presidential elections nationwide when he ran against Petro Poroschenko, a businessman who had taken a strong stance against Moscow. He did it with anti-corruption policies and a certain anti-establishment attitude. He promised to end the war in the East, against pro-Russian separatists backed by the Kremlin. Poroshenko, his predecessor, promised to win the conflict.
Zelenskiy offered some brilliant policies early in his term. His government, which had a comfortable majority, opened up the market for agricultural land, led a massive digitization campaign and inaugurated a major road construction program to renew rural roads, which were in very poor condition throughout the country. .
However, his problems with the media, the lack of organization of his teams and a number of controversies saw the public’s confidence in him eroded. Despite the reforms put in place, Ukraine remains the third most corrupt country in Europe, after Russia and Azerbaijan, according to Transparency International.
Zelenskiy has also been caught up in Donald Trump’s politics. The then US president called out the Ukrainian leader which led to the former’s impeachment. Trump, who had for some time suspended shipments of defense supplies to Ukraine, called his counterpart in favor of the opening of an investigation into Hunter Biden and his father, Joe Biden, who was then the candidate democrat in the 2020 presidential race.
A “weak” president
At the time, Zelensky appeared weak, and the episode worried more than one at the start of the Russian crisis, when Putin began to send troops to the Ukrainian borders and multiplied the threats against Kiev given his intentions to enter in NATO.
The Ukrainian president has also been harshly criticized by part of the political opposition because of his management. Those criticisms, however, have been shelved for the time being — with the exception of one pro-Russian group — and given way to support for more sanctions on Russia. part of the allies as well as the supply of arms.
Meanwhile, Zelenski addressed his citizens, encouraging them to take to the streets in defense of the country – whether they use Molotov cocktails, weapons or whatever they have. “Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities,” he said.