How Volodymyr Zelenskyy Went from Playing the Ukrainian President in A Sitcom to Actually Being the Ukrainian President

The man of the hour is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Russia underestimated the amount of resistance they would face in their invasion of Ukraine, and Zelensky is the heart and face of that resistance. The usual pattern in countries like Ukraine with a history of corrupt leadership is that when hostile armies close in on the capital, the leaders stuff money and jewels into suitcases and disappear to some safe haven (think: Afghanistan). Zelensky has chosen to stay and fight against Vladimir Putin, a man with a fearsome reputation for brutal military tactics (see: Chechnya and Syria) and for political assassinations.

Where did Zelenskyy come from? American politicians are nearly all lawyers or businessmen. Zelenskyy was a professional comedian. He did get a law degree, but then went into stage and film comedy. He starred in a number of lightweight films such as Love in the Big City,  Office Romance, and the zany Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon:

In 2015 the actor created, produced and starred in a comedic television series, Servant of the People:

In this political satire, a young high school teacher happens to let loose with a rant about corruption in Ukraine. One of his students captures this rant on his phone and puts it out on the internet. That YouTube video goes viral, and (to his complete surprise) the teacher gets elected president of Ukraine. He then proceeds to govern honorably, amidst various comedic situations.

In a case of life-mimics-art, the real Zelenskyy ran for the presidency of the country in 2019. Fueled by the popularity of the TV series, Zelenskyy’s campaign was almost entirely virtual. It succeeded in unseating the incumbent candidate, with Zelenskyy receiving a landslide 73% of the vote.

Although his Ukrainian presidency began on a whimsical note, it has turned into a global epic. However, it is difficult to envisage an ending to this epic that is not tragic. Drawing on his acting skills, Zelenskyy has been a master of internet communications in the present crisis, but there is only so much that can be done in the face of hard military realities. While the images of Ukrainian resistance are inspiring, the Russians have far greater military might and have the will to employ it as needed. And as long as Europe continues to fund Russia by guzzling Russian natural gas, sanctions can only bite moderately hard.

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