Everything We Know About Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had all eyes on him since Russian President Vladimir Putin began his invasion into Ukraine. As a former TV star, comedian, and even "Dancing with the Stars" contestant, the politician has become the face of resistance for Ukraine, and he has demonstrated what it takes to be a true leader of his country. From the self-shot videos he's shared on social media in war zones to him already surviving three different assassination attempts in just a few days (via The Times), Zelenskyy is the president Ukraine needed in times like these. And it turns out that he had no prior experience working in politics before he was elected. Previously, the most he knew about being a president was when he played one on a popular Ukrainian television show.


But who really is President Zelenskyy and how did he get to where he is now? Continue reading for everything we know about Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

Before becoming the president of Ukraine, he was an actor and comedian

If you didn't already know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a well-established career as an actor and comedian before becoming the president of Ukraine in 2019. Zelenskyy attended the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics and received a degree in law, but eventually made a change in his career after breaking into the entertainment industry (via Fox News). His most well-known acting gig was on the hit television show "Servant of the People," for which he portrayed a high school teacher (also with no political experience) that becomes the president of Ukraine after a video of him venting about corruption goes viral on the internet. That sounds pretty fitting considering it somewhat foreshadowed what happened in real life years later.


The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Zelenskyy has been part of some major films in his acting career, including some voiceover work. He actually voiced Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian version of "Paddington." StudioCanal, the producer of the 2014 animated film and its 2017 sequel "Paddington 2," revealed that the Ukrainian president did in fact bring the lovable bear to life on the big screen. Actor Hugh Bonneville shared a Twitter post the moment he made the connection, sending the rest of the internet into a frenzy. 

He won the Ukrainian presidential election in 2019 with a virtual campaign

Before becoming the country's leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy had no prior experience working in politics. Still, the well-known comedian won with no party affiliation against Petro Poroshenko in a complete landslide, scoring more than 73% of the votes, according to BBC News. Although he had very little knowledge or political experience, Zelenskyy still managed to successfully run the world's first virtual presidential campaign. 


Now we know what you are thinking — how do you run for president virtually? Well, according to Politico, Zelenskyy campaigned, but it wasn't face to face. There weren't any speeches held in person, rallies full of large crowds, press conferences, or public meetings in town halls. Zelenskyy was actually still in the process of shooting episodes of his television show, "Servant of the People," at the start of his campaign. Instead of going along with the typical process, Zelenskyy turned to social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram.

He was involved in the 2019 scandal with former president Donald Trump

Shortly after being elected president of Ukraine in 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy found himself entangled in a scandal with former president Donald Trump. According to BBC News, an anonymous whistleblower filed a formal complaint against Trump in August 2019. A phone call with Zelenskyy was reported and it was alleged that Trump had used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country" prior to the 2020 election. The complaint further claimed that Trump attempted to encourage Zelenskyy to look into former vice president Joe Biden and his son's involvement with Ukraine, as Biden was the opposing lead candidate. The conversation was reported to have happened shortly after Trump blocked millions of dollars worth of military aid to Ukraine, but Trump later denied any wrongdoing (via People).  


This major scandal eventually led to Trump's impeachment, marking him as the third U.S. president to be impeached. In September 2019, Nancy Pelosi announced that the House was moving forward with a formal impeachment trial against Trump (via USA Today). "The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law," Pelosi said. By December 2019, Trump was officially impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power with a vote of 230 to 197 and obstruction of Congress with a vote of 229 to 198, per NBC News

His family fought in WWII

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen across the world as a war hero for his immense bravery as he is fighting for, and alongside, his country against Russia. Not only is he admired for his leadership by Ukrainian people, but also many Jewish people as well. According to The Times of Israel, President Zelenskyy comes from a Jewish family and had multiple family members fight during World War II. Many of his relatives, including three of his great uncles, lost their lives fighting against the Nazis. 


As Russia continues to invade Ukraine, President Zelenskyy has expressed that the behaviors of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his troops against Ukrainian people are similar to Nazis' during WWII (via The Times of Israel). When discussing the Russian attacks over a Zoom call with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Zekenskyy described the bombings as "Pure Nazism." He said, "[Putin] is just destroying the citizens of Ukraine of different nationalities. This is just pure Nazi behavior. I can't even qualify this in any different manner." 

One of the sites that has been attacked by Russian troops is Babyn Yar, a location where thousands of Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust. After the attacks, Zelensky tweeted, "To the world: what is the point of saying 'never again' for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating."


He founded his own production company, Kvartal 95, and starred in multiple films

In addition to being a well-known comedian across Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy starred in a number of movies and even launched his own production company at the start of his career in entertainment. In 1997, Zelenskyy and his comedy group, Kvartal 95, became regular contestants on a Ukrainian comedy show, "Club of the Funny and Inventive People" (via Britannica). Eventually in 2003, the performance group founded their own production company, Studio Kvartal 95, and became wildly popular across the country. According to Kvartal 95's official website, the company produces a wide variety of different services, including animation projects, movies, and TV shows. 


President Zelenskyy can dance, make you laugh, and quite literally lead a country during a war at this point, but did you know he was the lead actor in multiple rom-coms? According to Vanity Fair, Zelenskyy co-wrote and starred in the "No Love in the City" movie series, the 2011 film "Office Romance. Our Time," 2012's "8 First Dates," and 2018's "Me. You. He. She." — just to name a few. Additionally, the Ukrainian President starred in and co-produced "Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon," playing the lead political leader Napoleon.

He met his wife, Olena Zelenska, in college

In his personal life, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been married to his wife, Olena Zelenska, for over 19 years. According to People, Zelenskyy and Zelenska met while she was studying architecture and writing at Kryvyi Rih National University. The couple dated for eight years before tying the knot back in September 2003, as noted by The U.S. Sun, and they have been together ever since. One year later, the pair welcomed their first child, a baby girl named Oleksandra, in July 2004, and in January 2013, they had their first son, Kyrylo. Zelenska is involved in screenwriting at Kvartal 95 Studio, her husband's production company. 


Zelenska was "not too happy" when she first learned her husband was interested in running for president, as she shared in an interview with Vogue Ukraine in 2019. "I realized how everything would change, and what difficulties we would have to face," she stated. She discussed how she originally found out about her husband's presidential campaign through the media because Zelenskyy simply forgot to tell her. "My husband knows how to surprise," she jokingly said. 

He was on Ukraine's version of Dancing With the Stars

From actor and comedian to future war hero, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has had an interesting and untraditional rise to success. Not only has he had major success as a film producer, but he's also taken home a trophy on a popular dance competition reality show. According to People, Zelenskyy won Ukraine's version of "Dancing with the Stars" back in 2006. 


Shortly after The Hollywood Reporter confirmed Zelenskyy voiced the role of Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian version of the "Paddington" film series, multiple clips of the president dancing with his partner, Olena Shoptenko, resurfaced and went viral across the internet, specifically on TikTok and Twitter (via New York Post). The Ukrainian president can be seen in these clips performing multiple routines in a variety of different dance styles and dressed in colorful, vibrant costumes. One Twitter user shared a dance reel of all the different routines Zelenskyy performed, including one during which he and his partner were blindfolded. If that's not impressive, we don't know what is!

He grew up in an area known as the Pale of Settlement

Although President Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not often talk openly about his Jewish religion to the public, he is viewed by many as a Jewish hero his country needs amidst the Russian invasion. Zelenskyy was born to Jewish parents in his hometown of Kryvyi Rih, also known as the Pale of Settlement within the Russian Empire. and spoke Russian (via Britannica). Kryvyi Rih is where many Jewish families "were allowed to live and work," according to The New York Times. However, the Jewish people living there continued to suffer an endless amount of anti-Semitic attacks.


Zelenskyy does not bring up his Jewish identity often, and has said that his religion is only a small part of who he is as a person and as a leader. In an interview with The Times of Israel in 2020, he talked about how he grew up in "an ordinary Soviet Jewish Family." He said, "Most Jewish families in the Soviet Union were not religious."  

He's very active on social media

Unlike many world leaders, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been incredibly active across multiple social media platforms throughout the crisis with Russia. By using his high-profile Instagram and Facebook pages, he has uploaded countless self-shot videos giving live reports and updates from war zones. This has included multiple announcements of his plans, encouragement to not give up fighting, and new information for the Ukrainian people. 


ABC News reported that Zelenskyy has been commended for his communication skills during the invasion, which showcases his commitment to his country as he stays and fights alongside his troops. As a former TV actor and comedian, he knows how to passionately speak to a global audience, and given his success running an entirely virtual campaign, he knows how to convey a strong message online.

One way Zelenskyy communicates is through self-recorded videos. According to The Atlantic, Zelenskyy uses these videos to not only demonstrate the condition of Kyiv after multiple bombing attacks, but also to encourage Ukrainian people to continue fighting during these devastating times and to not lose hope. "This is our land, our country, our children," he said in a video posted to Instagram, showing him outside. "And we will defend all of this." 


During his campaign, he said he'd push for anti-corruption policies

During his presidential campaign in 2019, one of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's main goals as president was to crack down on corruption within Ukraine and to fix the country's oligarch ruling system (via The Guardian). If you are unfamiliar with a Russian oligarch, they are business leaders with an enormous amount of wealth and are associated with powerful people in politics, as noted by CBS News. Additionally, there are many oligarchs who hold positions of power under Russian President Vladimir Putin. 


Although Zelenskyy won the election in a landslide, there are many people who believed his methods of eliminating the oligarchy might not work exactly as he planned — not only because he is an inexperienced politician, but also because of how much power the oligarchs hold. According to BBC News, Zelenskyy wrote a De-oligarchisation Bill, saying, "There will be no influence on mass media, no influence on politics, no influence on officials." The news outlet noted that whoever is considered an influence will be ticketed, and big businesses "may lose a great share of its assets," as Zelenskyy shared.

He is an inspiration to Ukraine as he stands against Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly proven that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has the natural qualities of a true leader and has shown that he has what it takes to be brave during a truly terrifying crisis. He communicates effectively with his people, is wildly respected, and is utterly authentic, especially online. Some have even referred to him as the "modern [Winston] Churchill" for the way he's managed this invasion (via ABC News). 


Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John E. Herbst and former CIA officer Paul Kolbe spoke with People about how Zelenskyy has been doing everything possible to reassure his people that they will get through this crisis together. "He's been broadcasting himself, doing selfie takes from the middle of a war zone, reassuring his countrymen that he's there with them, that he's sharing their danger, that he's sharing their pain," Kolbe said. "And he's channeling their courage and helping to magnify it."

Not only does Zelenskyy have extraordinary qualities of a leader, but his previous role as an entertainer helped him greatly in this high position, especially when it comes to delivering strong, emotional, and powerful messages. "He is a world class entertainer. So he understands the mood of people," Herbst stated. "To be an effective comedian, you have to be able to read an audience. And the public dimension of his work right now is really, really important." 


He is not intimidated by Russian President Vladimir Putin

What sticks out the most about President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is his commitment to fighting alongside his people and not running away from the issue at hand. He has made it well known throughout the course of the devastating Russian invasion that he is not intimidated by President Vladimir Putin. People reported that when the United States offered to evacuate him from the city of Kyiv in Ukraine in order to protect him against Russia's attacks, he turned it down almost immediately. "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," Zelenskyy responded, once again proving that a true leader stands by his country and not leaving in a time of need.


Known for his empowering words, the president received a standing ovation after delivering a speech to the European Parliament after submitting an application to grant Ukraine European Union Membership. "We're fighting for our land and our freedom despite the fact that all our cities are now blocked. Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he said (via People). He later continued, saying, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness. Glory be to Ukraine!"