Who is Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy?

Ukrainians display incredible acts of bravery in the face of Russian forces

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to remain in Kyiv even as Russian troops close in on the capital.

“They want to destroy the country politically, terminating the head of state,” Zelenskyy said early Friday morning, adding that he is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “target number one.” 

Still, he promised that Ukraine would defend itself. “We are not afraid of anything,” he said. 

But who is the country’s leader? A 44-year-old political neophyte? A comedian-turned-TV star? A wartime president? 

In this handout photo taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Before he was elected in 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy actually played the president on a Ukrainian TV show called “Servant of the People” in which he portrayed a high school teacher who woke up one morning to find out he had been elected president in a landslide after a social media video he made denouncing corruption went viral, according to ABC News. 

The show was so popular that his comedy group Kvartal 95 started a real political party called “Servant of the People.” 

In his real campaign, Zelenskyy ran against corruption and on ending the war with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Leaning heavily on social media, he won in a landslide and was inaugurated in May 2019. 

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy smiles after the second round of presidential elections in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2019. 
(Photo by Danil Shamkin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Soon after, he became embroiled in an investigation of then-President Trump who was accused of withholding military aid from Ukraine on the condition its government investigate his soon-to-be rival Joe Biden for his dealings in Ukraine. Trump was impeached and later acquitted. 

Zelenskyy was also pressured last year to take a tougher stance against pro-Putin factions in Ukraine, a move that coincided with a Russian buildup of military forces, according to ABC. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy takes a selfie at the first congress of his party called Servant of the People in the city Botanical Garden, Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, June 9, 2019.
(AP Photo/Zoya Shu, File)

Zelenskyy is also Jewish and had family members die in the Holocaust, which made Putin’s claim this week that Russian troops are trying to “denazify” Ukraine – a reference undoubtedly meant to resonate with Russians over WWII – all the more strange. 

Zelenskyy married screenwriter and architect Olena Zelenska in 2003 and the two have a son and daughter. Zelenskyy said his family remains in Ukraine in an undisclosed location. 

He gave a defiant update of the situation on Friday morning. 

“The fights continue,” he said. “Russia expects us to get tired, but we’re not tired.”

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