The actor who played a TV president as recently as 2015, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has shown steely courage and resilience in defending his country against the Russian invasion. Zelensky wore his national pride on his sleeve, stepped onto the world stage and inspired us to get behind his cause of solidarity with Ukraine. And we absolutely did.
How could we not? It’s in our best global security interest and the right thing to do. But it’s also Zelensky himself, a former comedian who found success – then as a rookie president – was propelled into the horrors of war. A man who bleeds blue and yellow.
No surprise, Zelensky is Time’s 2022 Person of the Year.
Since Feb. 24, when Russia launched a full-scale military assault on Ukraine, bombing major cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa, Zelensky has led by example. His decision to stay in Kyiv – rather than flee – was the first glimpse into the man he is, when after the U.S. offered to evacuate him, he said, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
In our own country, where divisiveness has been the commonality, Zelensky’s love for Ukraine – all of its parts, the good and not so good – is decidedly different from how things look in the United States. Yes, Ukraine is under unrelenting assault. Ukrainians fight to survive every single day, especially now in winter. But even before they were on the front lines to justify their very existence, there was a national spirit. A camaraderie. A deep affection for Ukraine, what citizens had and how they lived.
This has us thinking, could we find that same kind of love for our own country? Could we defend the U.S. as states that are truly united – all the incongruent parts, all the people and their differences – in the way Zelensky has? He would certainly be an act to follow.
People around the world responded to Zelensky’s contagious spirit by digging deep into pockets for donations, along with offering humanitarian and morale support, prayers and genuine good wishes.
During Zelensky’s visit to Washington earlier this week, the Biden administration provided Ukraine its most advanced ground-based air defense system, the Patriot, along with a number of other weapons. Lawmakers also announced a deal to provide more than $44 billion in emergency aid.
Zelensky looked tired as he walked to the floor of the House Chamber to address members of Congress, where many reached out to shake hands or pat the back of this modest, yet exceptional man.
Zelensky does have his share of critics. Some Republicans are vocally opposed to sending more aid to Ukraine.
And Zelensky caught heat for posing with his wife, Olena Zelenska, for the October issue of Vogue. He knows how to keep our short attention span on his mission for a restored Ukraine. This wasn’t about celebrity. It was an intentional move to keep all eyes on Ukraine. He and his wife just want the rest of the world to care. Attention is the currency here. Zelensky is skillful in getting it. Again and again.
Ukraine is a reminder that democracy is fragile. And a person of ordinary origins can possess the strength of character to grow into someone larger when pressed. Zelensky is this person.