Who Is Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Biography, Personal Life, Political Career
The Time magazine annually hands out the title Person of the Year to someone who has "affected the news or our lives the most, for better, or worse". This year President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and "the spirit of Ukraine" has been named Time magazine's 2022 Person of the Year. Who is he? How has he become Person of The Year? Read on to know the answer.
Who is Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
Zelensky, 44, is a former comedian, television personality and actor — and now Ukraine’s head of state. He was born in the industrial city of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine and raised in an “ordinary Soviet Jewish family,” he has said.
Although he was a political novice, Zelensky’s anti-corruption platform won him widespread support, and his significant online following translated into a solid electoral base. He won a landslide victory over incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the second round of the 2019 presidential election. President Zelensky’s leadership during the Russian invasion of Ukraine won him global acclaim.
|January 25, 1978 - Born in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine
2000 - Graduated from Kyiv National Economic University, with a law degree
1997-2003 - Actor, performer, script writer, producer of the stand-up comedy contest team «KVARTAL 95»
2003-2011 - Executive producer, “KVARTAL 95”, LLC
2011-2012 - Chief Executive, PJSC “Inter TV Station”
2013-2019 - Executive producer, “KVARTAL 95”, LLC
Founded “The League of laughter” NGO. Produced 10 feature length movies, won more than 30 awards of the National Television Award of Ukraine "Teletriumph”. President Zelenskyy is a prize-winner of numerous international film festivals and media forums.
From the outset of the hostilities in Donbas Volodymyr Zelenskyy and “KVARTAL 95” rendered support to the Armed Forces with funds, equipment and arranged shows on the front line and in different military units.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Family
He and his wife, screenwriter Olena Zelenska, have two children.
Zelenskyy met Zelenska in college, where she switched from studying architecture to writing and became a screenwriter for his production company, according to Tatler.
They share two children, 17-year-old Aleksandra and 9-year-old Kiril.
How did Zelensky rise from television comedian to president?
Zelensky studied law at university but after graduating entered the entertainment business, founding a television-production company. He became famous for his skits, including one where he and some accomplices dropped their trousers and pretended to play a piano with something other than their hands. Later, he won the Ukrainian version of “Dancing with the Stars” in 2006 and voiced the role of Paddington in the eponymous movie about a young bear who visits London.
It was his TV show “Servant of the People” that captured the mood of the country when the program first aired in 2015, however. Mr. Zelensky played a humble schoolteacher who candidly ranted on a video about the everyday corruption many Ukrainians need to contend with. The clip went viral, launching a political career that ultimately propelled his character into the presidential palace.
|Which TV shows and movies did Zelensky appear in?
Before running for president, Zelensky was a popular face in Ukrainian entertainment. Now that the world is focused on Ukraine, videos of Zelensky performing, acting and dancing have gone viral on social media.
He hosted a comedy show, “Liga Smeha” (“League of Laughter”), and won Ukraine’s “Dancing With the Stars” in 2006. He also voiced the titular cartoon bear in the Ukrainian version of “Paddington.”
Zelensky also helped create the multimillion-dollar production company Studio Kvartal 95.
But his most consequential role was on “Servant of the People” as Vasyl Holoborodko, a history teacher whose impassioned speech about corruption in Ukrainian politics goes viral, catapulting him to the presidency. The series was a hit.
Then TV became reality: With corruption emerging as a key issue, and the incumbent leader’s popularity falling, Zelensky decided to make a real-life run for Ukraine’s top office.
Zelensky broke from a crowded pool of candidates and won in a landslide victory in a runoff vote against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky’s win — much like Holoborodko’s — was seen as a rebuke against the status quo.
|Do you know...?
Zelenskyy voiced Paddington in the Ukrainian versions of the animated children's films.
"Paddington" producer StudioCana confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Zelenskyy voiced the lovable bear in both "Paddington" films.
He starred in a popular TV show in Ukraine called "Servant of the People," in which he played the president.
In the show, which aired from 2015 to 2019, Zelenskyy's character is an idealistic school teacher who goes on a viral tirade about government corruption and ends up becoming president.
How long has Zelensky been president of Ukraine?
Mr. Zelensky was elected president in 2019, defeating the incumbent Petro Poroshenko by casting himself as an antiestablishment outsider bent on rooting out corruption and securing better relations with Moscow. His pitch was largely based on the role he played on his TV show, where he portrayed an ordinary man thrown into the presidency to clean up the country. His political party was even named after the show.
1990s - Forms a comedy troupe with college friends called Kvartal 95. The group gains prominence performing in comedy competitions, and eventually starts a popular live sketch television show, “Evening Kvartal.”
2003 - Co-founds an entertainment production company, Kvartal 95 Studio.
2009 - In his feature film debut, Zelensky co-writes and stars in the romantic comedy “No Love in the City.”
November 16, 2015 - “Servant of the People” premieres.
2018 - Kvartal 95 Studio officially registers Servant of the People as a political party.
December 31, 2018 - Announces his candidacy in the 2019 presidential election.
April 21, 2019 - Zelensky is elected president, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko with 73.22% of the vote.
May 20, 2019 - Sworn in as the 6th president of Ukraine. In his inaugural address, Zelensky dissolves the current Ukrainian parliament and orders a parliamentary election. He also announces his intention to achieve a ceasefire in Donbas, a region in eastern Ukraine which is the site of hostilities between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces.
July 2019 - Zelensky’s Servant of the People party wins an outright majority in parliamentary elections.
July 25, 2019 - Phone call with US President Donald Trump, during which Trump presses Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
September 25, 2019 - Zelensky meets Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. During a joint press conference, Zelensky says he does not want to become involved in American politics, and he stresses that he did not feel pressured by Trump during the July phone call.
October 1, 2019 - Zelensky agrees to hold a local election in eastern Ukraine, signing accords with Russia, European monitors and separatists from the region. The agreement could pave the way for peace talks between Zelensky, Russian President Vladimir Putin and European leaders. Ukrainian nationalists protest the agreement, describing it as a capitulation to Russia.
December 9, 2019 - Attends the Normandy summit peace talks in Paris, marking Zelensky’s first meeting with Putin. Ukraine and Russia agree to a new prisoner swap and a ceasefire before the end of the year. Zelensky calls the results of the talks “a draw.”
March 4, 2020 - Zelensky replaces the country’s prime minister, saying he hopes the new PM will “do the impossible.” Ukraine’s Parliament approves Denis Shmygal as the new PM, after accepting the resignation of Oleksiy Honcharuk at an extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament
September 1, 2021 - Zelensky meets with President Joe Biden in his first visit to the White House. A joint statement issued by the two countries affirms the US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty.
November 26, 2021 - Zelensky claims a group of Ukrainians and Russians is planning to carry out a coup against him.
January 27, 2022 - Amid a buildup of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, Biden and Zelensky hold a phone call in which Biden warns that a Russian attack may be imminent. Zelensky tells reporters the following day that world leaders have been overstating the likelihood of war between Ukraine and Russia.
February 19, 2022 - Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference asking for new security guarantees and preemptive sanctions on Russia prior to any invasion.
February 24, 2022 - Russian military forces enter Ukraine and begin a full-scale assault across airfields, military headquarters, major cities and ports. Zelensky introduces martial law and urges calm, saying, “We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine.”
March 16, 2022 - Delivers a virtual address to the US Congress from Kyiv in the midst of the Russian invasion. Zelensky invokes Pearl Harbor and September 11 to make an appeal for a no-fly zone, additional sanctions and continued assistance.
April 3, 2022 - After reports of alleged Russian atrocities in the town of Bucha near Kyiv, Zelensky calls for an end of Russian “war crimes.” In his address, Zelensky announces a “mechanism of justice” will be established to investigate crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukrainian territory.
September 30, 2022 - Putin announces that Russia will seize four Ukrainian regions, in an annexation process which is illegal under international law. Zelensky calls the move a “farce” in a pre-recorded video statement and vows that “the entire territory of our country will be liberated.” Zelensky also said his country would apply for NATO membership “under an accelerated procedure,” but it’s unclear how long such a process will take.
What are Zelensky’s political views, including on Putin and Russia?
Zelensky has overseen the name changes of Soviet-era monuments and street names to honor Ukrainian heroes.
While he has become a hero of sorts to the Ukrainian public in the days since the Russian invasion began, his popularity as president had appeared to be waning. He was criticized for failing to push through anti-corruption reforms and some Ukrainians viewed him as too weak when it came to standing up to Putin.
Before he was elected, he said in an interview with Vice News that he wanted to end the conflict in the eastern Donbas region, “because we don’t want our people to perish anymore.”
The conflict in Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists have been battling with the Ukrainian government, played a key role in the Russian invasion. Days before the war started, Putin formally recognized the independence of two separatist republics in the Donbas, where he has baselessly claimed that a “genocide” against Russian speakers was taking place. (Zelensky also speaks Russian.)
In the days since the invasion, Zelensky has appealed to both the European Union and NATO to grant Ukraine membership. Russia opposes NATO’s expansion eastward and has said Ukrainian membership is a “red line” for Moscow.
“We have proven our strength,” Zelensky said to the European Parliament in an address Monday. “So do prove that you are with us. Prove that you will not let us go. Prove that you indeed are Europeans.”
How is Zelensky winning international support?
Mr. Zelensky is at the apex of a sophisticated public relations effort to build global backing for Ukraine. From hand-shot videos from the streets of Kyiv to his addresses to the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, Mr. Zelensky is careful to tailor his message for his specific audience. He invoked the attacks of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor for American lawmakers and referred to Britain standing alone against Nazi Germany as he spoke by videolink to the British parliament. When speaking to the Irish parliament, he referred to the danger of famine in other parts of the world because of the disruption to Ukraine’s huge agricultural exports. He told the Grammy Awards that Ukraine’s cities were being silenced by the Russian war machine, and during an interview for The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London he said global companies had a critical role to play in isolating Russia and reviving Ukraine’s economy.
In Ukraine, his customary late-night addresses over social media have become a rally-point for ordinary Ukrainians. Sat at his desk, Mr. Zelensky provides updates on how the conflict is progressing, applauding the sacrifices of the Ukrainian armed forces and warning of the tests to come.
How has Zelensky’s stance against Russia evolved?
Mr. Zelensky initially sought a rapprochement with Russia when he was elected president in 2019. Ukraine had been at loggerheads with the Kremlin since 2014, when Russian forces annexed the Black Sea port of Crimea and stirred up a rebellion that led to two pro-Russian regions breaking away from Kyiv’s control. Mr. Zelensky pledged to improve relations with Mr. Putin, and had some early successes. He secured a prisoner exchange with Russia and moved toward a deal on how to build on a 2015 cease-fire agreement.
Street protests against his plans forced him to change tack. Western diplomats warned him that Mr. Putin was trying to get him to sign an agreement that would provide Mr. Putin with long-term influence over Ukraine’s future via Russia’s proxies in the breakaway regions, with the goal of barring the country from joining the EU or NATO.
Zelensky instead turned toward persuading NATO to engage in a closer relationship with Ukraine while launching a popular campaign to win back control of the strategic Crimean Peninsula. A person close to him said Russia had begun to see him as being too similar to Mr. Poroshenko, whom he succeeded as president, and as someone intent on pushing Ukraine closer to the West.
Political analysts said the prospect of Ukraine aligning itself more closely with the West had enraged Mr. Putin, who has long been trying to restore Russia’s sphere of influence, which had been curtailed severely since the end of the Cold War more than 30 years earlier.
On the fifth day of the invasion, Zelensky said the Ukrainian people were now fighting to become equal members of the EU—with many paying the ultimate price. “We are giving our lives for the right to be equal,” he said, unshaven and wearing a green army T-shirt. “Prove that you are with us and won’t let us go.”
|Who was Person of The Year in the previous years?
Elon Musk (2021)
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (2020)
Greta Thunberg (2019)
The Guardians (2018)
The Silence Breakers (2017)
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