Person of the Year

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Spirit of Ukraine have been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2022.

Not bad for a man who was just a few years ago a television comedic actor playing the role of the President of his nation. Life has imitated art, in this case, in a most powerful way. By the way, Mr. Zelensky’s series is currently available on Netflix. I think I’ll check that out; you might get a kick out of it as well.

Servant of the People

As a wartime president, Zelensky is most certainly the servant to his people, but that phrase was also the title of the Ukrainian comedy series he starred in starting in 2015.

photo of Zelensky Shooting
In this screenshot from the series, Zelensky goes full “Tony Montana” as he kills what appears to be the entire Ukrainian parliament. Screenshot from YouTube and KinoGuru

In his TV show, the Ukrainian President plays a destitute schoolteacher whose anti-corruption rant goes viral on social media. The people saw his character and thought “that guy” should be President. And that’s the fictional world. In real life, Zelensky used the same anti-corruption theme while running for the highest office in the land. As a political newcomer, he won 73.2% of the vote in the 2019 Ukraine presidential election. His opponent, Petro Poroshenko, represented the old, corrupt Ukraine. Zelensky represented a more westernized Ukraine and hopes for a brighter future. At first, a vote for Zelensky was seen as a protest vote; then, people slowly came to know the man behind the comedian as they put their faith in his leadership.

An Inherited Mess

Having Russia invade your nation has to be a worst-case scenario, but things weren’t exactly going well in Ukraine when Zelensky took power. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Ukrainian troops have been fighting in the eastern Donbas Oblast ever since. The separatists are backed by the Kremlin and are well-supplied. According to CNN News and a United Nations report, the war has taken over 13,000 lives, and over 3,000 of those killed were civilians.

This video, provided by YouTube and The Telegraph, was released shortly after the February 24th invasion of Ukraine. It’s a little over half a minute long and appears to have been taken by his phone, but the message is calm and clear, “We are all here.” The President, the Prime Minister, the soldiers…all there. It is a powerful, calm, and potent message.

He’s a man of the people, usually wearing t-shirts and hoodies instead of a suit. He comes off as brave, confident, and ordinary in his videos. He is literally a “man of the people” because he is one of the people. In an early March news conference, he chose to sit beside a podium instead of standing behind it. He is wearing his signature olive drab clothing and appears to be tired and a bit unshaven. Who can blame him?

He reminds the people you “elected me to have access to me.” Speaking of himself, he says, “You’re not a czar. You did not get this power from somebody up high.” He realizes he is a target for assassination and admits he does not want to die. He says,

 “I don’t want Ukraine’s history to be a legend about 300 Spartans.”

This, of course, is a reference to the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans were killed alongside 700 Thespians on the final day of the battle.

Defying Expectations

Many in the west expected Russian forces to quickly take over the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv early in the war, quickly pushing the existing government aside and establishing their own puppet rule. This did not happen; Zelensky held his ground and stayed in the city, and the Russians retreated. He had told his fellow countrymen on the night of the invasion, “Putin began a war against Ukraine and against the entire democratic world. He wants to destroy our country and everything we have been building, but we know the strength of the Ukrainian people.”

In the bloody months that followed, the strength of the Ukrainian people was on display for the world to see. Time Magazine certainly did not miss it when they included “the spirit of Ukraine” as part of their person of the year selection. Russians have tried their hardest to break down that spirit. They have targeted countless civilian structures during Putin’s “special military operation.” Scores of innocent men, women, and children have died for no other reason than being a citizen of Ukraine. This cannot be justified or condoned.

One day Mr. Putin must stand trial for his crimes against humanity, and during that time, the true spirit of the Ukrainian people will stand out more than ever.