Who is Volodymyr Zelensky? How Ukraine wartime leader went from comedy actor playing president on TV to office

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The current Ukrainian president’s road to politics had a few interesting avenues

Cast your mind back six months and it’s likely didn’t know much about Ukraine’s current president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Cut to March 2022 and his name is on the lips of the entire international community as he attempts to defend his country from a violent Russian invasion.

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The statesman made an unusual road to politics and is now a wartime leader for Ukraine.

Here’s everything you need to know about the man who is trying to quell Russia’s attempt to overtake his country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had an interesting road to politics (Credit: Getty)Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had an interesting road to politics (Credit: Getty)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had an interesting road to politics (Credit: Getty) | Getty Images

Who is Volodymyr Zelensky?

Volodymyr Zelensky was born on 25 January 1978 in Kryvyi Rih, a Russian-speaking region of south-eastern Ukraine.

In 2019, he was elected to Ukraine’s top job, replacing Petro Poroshenko as president of the country in a landslide result after he won a reported 73.22% of the vote in the second round.

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He is a member of the Servant of the People, a centrist political party, and identifies as a populist.

Was Volodymyr Zelensky an actor?

Prior to turning to politics, Zelensky was a very well-known comedy actor in his native Ukraine.

Amazingly, he played the role of president of Ukraine from 2015 until 2019 in an immensely popular TV show in the country called Servant of the People.

The name of the show was used to create the political party of which he is now a member.

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The show was about a high school teacher - played by Zelensky - who wins the presidential election in Ukraine after a video goes viral of him ranting against government corruption.

Why did Volodymyr Zelensky become a politician?

The wildly popular actor made the transition from TV president to real-life politician in 2019.

Opinion polls for the 2019 Ukrainian election put Zelensky ahead as a frontrunner, even before he had officially declared his candidacy.

Speaking to German news magazine Der Spiegel, he said that he took cue from his character and joined politics “to bring professional, decent people to power” and “would really like to change the mood and timbre of the political establishment, as much as possible”.

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During his campaign, he promised that he would only serve one term as Ukraine’s president.

What has Volodymyr Zelensky said about the Russian invasion?

After Russian troops moved into Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the world’s eyes turned to the former comedy actor as he attempted to stifle the invasion of his country.

He made clear to Russian president Vladimir Putin prior to invasion that Ukraine would continue to seek membership of the NATO defence alliance, in defiance of Russia’s demands.

After troops moved in, there were false reports that he had fled the country.

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Zelensky used his social media to consistently communicate with the Ukrainian population and the world, with one video filmed alongside his top government officials confirming that they were on the ground and ready to defend the country’s capital, Kyiv.

In the video, he said: “Good evening everyone. The leader of the presidential party is here. The leader of the presidential office is here. The prime minister is here. The adviser to the leader of the presidential office is here. The president is here. We are all here.

“Our service members are all here. Citizens are here. We all protect our independence and our country, and it will stay like that. Glory to the heroes, glory to Ukraine.”

On 28 February, he also insisted that the EU give immediate membership to Ukraine after signing the official application for the country.

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The Ukrainian president has been commended on the world stage for his commitment to the fightback against Russia.

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