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Volodymyr Zelenskyy

02.03.2022 Featured CLOSE-UP: He Played a President on TV. Now, He’s Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskyy

Published 2nd Mar, 2022

By Joseph Adeiye

Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24, the rest of the world expressed their feelings of disgust and shock very strongly. Ukraine has since been defending its cities from artillery fire and air raids as Russian troops make a gradual march towards Kyiv to topple the democratic government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The United States, Canada, Japan, and a host of nations reeled out economic sanctions on Russia to make sure Putin stopped the assault on Ukraine, but to no avail. In the face of an obviously more powerful military force however, Zelenskyy has rallied his nation and fueled patriotism in Ukrainians, to the admiration of the rest of the world.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Creates Military Unit for Foreign Volunteers. Here’s How to Join

Five years ago, he was neither a politician nor a government official. Today, he inspires hope as a head of state willing to defend his nation with his blood. Who is Zelensky?

BORN, RAISED IN UKRAINE

Zelenskyy was born on January 25, 1978, in the Russian speaking region of Kryvyi Rih, under the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Kryvyi Rih is the seventh most populated city in present-day Ukraine.

Rymma Zelenska, Volodymyr’s mother, used to work as an engineer, while Oleksandr Zelenskyy, his father, was a mining scientist who served as a professor and head of the Department of Cybernetics and Computing Hardware at the Kryvyi Rih State University of Economics and Technology.

Zelenskyy and his parents

Before starting elementary school, Volodymyr Zelenskyy lived with his father in the Mongolian city of Erdenet, where he worked for about four years. Owing to the fact that he grew up in a Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s first language is Russian. He is also fluent in Ukrainian and English.

READ ALSO: CLOSE-UP: Vladmir Putin. How Boy With Near-Perfect Grades Became Russia’s Stone-Faced Leader

JEWISH GENEALOGY

President Zelenskyy was born to Jewish parents. Zelenskyy’s Facebook post on May 9, 2021, reveals his sentiments on Nazism and the Holocaust: “Thanksgiving for the fact that the inhuman ideology of Nazism is a thing of the past, thanksgiving to those who fought against Nazism – and won, thanksgiving everyone for the opportunity to be born and live. 

“No one has the right to privatize this victory, to say that it could have happened without Ukrainians. We remember those who had lost their lives. And we honor those who are still alive, there are very few of them left.”

Nazism, the political principles of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, promoted racist views and behaviours towards Jews and people of colour. Nazism birthed the Holocaust, which was the genocide of Jews during the Second World War in Europe. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systematically murdered around six million Jews across European nations occupied by German forces.

Victory Day has been celebrated every year on May 9 with thanksgiving to commemorate the suppression of Nazi Germany ever since the end of the Second World War. Families that made sacrifices as soldiers and victims are remembered.

Semyon Ivanovych Zelenskyy was Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s grandfather. He served in the 57th Guards Motor Rifle Division of the Red Army during the Second World War.

ZELENSKY READ LAW

Zelenskyy would have gone to study in Israel after he passed the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) at age 16 and secured an education grant, but his father refused the offer. Instead, Zelenskyy studied and earned a degree in law from the the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics which is now a part of the Kryvyi Rih National University. His legal knowledge will help him have a decent grasp of policies and legislation affecting Ukraine later in his foray into politics. But first, Zelenskyy wanted to entertain.

Zelenskyy at a show

ENTERTAINMENT BEFORE POLITICS

Although Zelenskyy was licensed to practice law, he decided to build a career in the performing arts and entertainment. He had been involved in theatre as a student. He joined a local team for the KVN (Klub Vesyólykh i Nakhódchivykh: Club of the Funny and Inventive People) competition and was later invited to join the United Ukrainian Team (Zaporizhia-Kryvyi Rih-Transit). Zelenskyy performed in the KVN’s major league with his team and won the competition in 1997. He created and managed the Kvartal 95 team in 1997 and the comedy outfit performed from 1998 to 2003. Zelenskyy’s team toured a couple of cities in ex-Soviet countries like Russia. Kvartal 95 started producing TV shows after 2003.

In 2015, Zelenskyy became the star of the television series ‘Servant of the People’. He played the character Vasiliy Goloborodko, a young high school history teacher who won the presidential election after he gained national popularity for a video in which he criticised the corruption in the Ukrainian government.

‘Servant of the People’ became a huge commercial success, and the unusual journey of the lead character to the presidency of Ukraine would eventually guide Zelenskyy as he entered politics.

Zelenskyy hosting a show before the 2019 Presidential Election in Ukraine

PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE

The staff of Kvartal 95 registered a political party in March 2018 and named it ‘Servant of the People’, after their popular TV show. Zelenskyy led a successful presidential campaign to unseat Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent president of Ukraine from December 2018. Poroshenko had become unpopular due to a stagnant economy, and it took Zelenskyy only four months to organise a winning campaign.

Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy won both the first round of elections on March 31 and the run-off election on April 21, 2019. He became president of Ukraine after beating Poroshenko with nearly 73 percent of the vote.

THE DAY ZELENSKY PLAYED PIANO ON STAGE WITH HIS PENIS

Zelenskyy had been regarded as a national celebrity long before he became president. He danced, sang, and acted; he was an all-purpose entertainer.

His old comic videos are both heartwarming and fantastic. In a video on Студия Квартал 95 Online, Zelenskyy, alongside fellow performers, play the piano pants down and without their hands. What are the odds of playing a musical instrument with one’s genitals on stage to a large audience and becoming head of state a few years later?

SOCIAL LIBERTARIAN

President Zelenskyy made numerous promises on his way to the presidency of Ukraine. He said he was interested in serving just one term as president, and that he decided to become a politician to show people that politicians could be trusted too.

Zelenskyy’s position on current social matters is more liberal and progressive. Zelenskyy supports the free distribution of cannabis for medical purposes. He has advocated for the legislation of prostitution and supports free abortion for women in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy has also deliberated on the legalisation of gambling. He has opposed the legalisation of weapons in Ukraine to mitigate the potential rise in gun violence.

PANDORA PAPERS

Zelenskyy has not been without his share of controversies as a public figure and world leader. He has been mistranslated in diplomatic conversations with neighbouring Romania, and he has been criticised for a personal trip to Oman.

His biggest is likely the October 2021 Pandora Papers. Zelenskyy was implicated alongside Sergey Shefir, an aide, for the operation of a network of offshore companies in Cyprus, Belize, and the British Virgin Islands. Some of the real estate companies were linked to a high-end property in London.

Shefir and Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy did not deny using offshore companies, but insisted that neither he nor his company Kvartal 95 engaged in money laundering. The implicating papers showed that Zelenskyy handed his shares in a key offshore company to Shefir, but there was an arrangement for Zelenskyy’s family to continue receiving money from the company.

Zelenskyy said he made the offshore company arrangement to prevent his TV shows from being influenced by politics.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine and Russia formed individual governments for their respective sovereign states. However, Vladmir Putin has always expressed the sentiment that parts (if not the whole) of Ukraine should be part of the Russian federation.

Before the 2022 “special military exercise”, Putin had said that “Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space”. “These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends, and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties,” he said in a speech.

Zelenskyy and Putin

Ukraine has however been fiercely independent and opposed to any union with Russia. There are regions in which Russian is the first language, but Ukraine desires to remain independent of Russian political influence.

Ukrainians protested heavily against President Viktor Yanukovych and impeached him in 2014 for making attempts to establish closer ties with Russia. Alexander Turchinov, Ukraine’s interim President, would immediately try to set things right with Ukrainian citizens by signing an association agreement with the European Union.

Putin then took over Crimea, a former Soviet republic that had been part of Ukraine since 1954, and pro-Russia militants established a stronghold in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine the same year. The Ukrainian government gave self-rule to the separatist region to end the conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists, But the conflict continued because Russian separatists wanted full independence.

Russia then sent troops to lay siege at the border of Ukraine. This culminated in the February 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russia through the land, air, and sea borders. Putin is concerned about Ukraine’s plan to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to guarantee freedom and security through political and military collaboration. Putin believes that Ukraine’s acceptance into NATO would threaten Russia’s sphere of influence, while Zelensky sees it as long-term security for Ukraine.

READ ALSO: ‘We Were Told They Would Welcome Us’ — Russian Soldier’s Emotional Message to Mum Moments Before Death

PICTURE-PERFECT FAMILY

Zelenskyy married Olena Kiyashko, his schoolmate, in September 2003. They have two children: daughter, Oleksandra, born in July 2004, and son, Kyrylo, born in January 2013. President Zelenskyy is fond of his family and is never shy to show them off on social media where he remains very active.

Zelenskyy’s daughter appeared in a 2014 movie, ‘8 New Dates’, as the daughter of the main character.

Zelenskyy in military gear (Left), the Zelenskyy family (Right)

The president has said that his decision to reconsider running for a second term as president will depend on how the country feels and what his family thinks.

At the moment, Zelensky is navigating the greatest conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

Published 2nd Mar, 2022

By Joseph Adeiye

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