Lawyer, comedian, president of Ukraine: Who is Volodymyr Zelensky?

He was elected in 2019 with over 70 per cent of the vote.

Nigel Chua | February 25, 2022, 10:55 PM

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President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday, Feb. 25, that he would stay in Kyiv, the country's capital, even as Russian invaders close in on the city in north-central Ukraine.

This was in spite of the fact that the "enemy"  had marked him as "the number one target", Zelensky said, citing "available intelligence" in a public address to the nation.

"They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state," the 44-year-old said.

According to a tweet posted by Axios reporter Barak Ravid, the president allegedly told EU leaders in a call on Thursday night that that "might be the last time" they see him alive.

To say that Zelensky is facing the biggest crisis of his presidency would be an understatement.

Here are some of the key moments of his term in office thus far.

Comedian who acted as an elected president

Zelensky was elected as president of Ukraine without previously having been a part of the government.

Instead, the law graduate made a career out of comedy, starting with his own comedy troupe.

He rose to fame with his comedy show Servant of the People, which aired from 2015. In it, he portrayed a school teacher who got elected as president after taking a stand against corruption.

At the end of 2018, he made a sudden move into Ukraine's political scene, announcing his candidacy for president.

Instead of holding rallies or giving interviews to the media, Zelensky's presidential campaign involved touring the country to put on comedy skits, according to Vox.

He also made use of social media to make his case directly to the voters.

Zelensky won the 2019 election with more than 70 per cent of the votes.

Involvement in scandal leading to Trump's impeachment

Early in Zelensky's presidency, he became entangled in a scandal that would ultimately lead to former U.S. President Donald Trump getting impeached.

According to the Washington Post, Trump ordered that nearly US$400 million (S$541 million) in military aid be withheld from Ukraine.

About a week later, on July 25, 2019, Trump called Zelensky, and allegedly asked Zelensky multiple times to investigate Hunter Biden and his father, Joe Biden, for corruption.

At the time, Joe Biden was a leading Democratic party candidate for the 2020 Presidential election — and would go on to win the election, denying Trump from getting re-elected.

Efforts to resolve tensions between Ukraine and Russia

One of Zelensky's campaign promises was to resolve tensions between Ukraine and Russia, particularly in the Donbas region, which has seen separatist fighting over the years.

He had called for negotiations with Russia over the issue, advocating for "international mediators"  like the U.S. and the UK to be involved, Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported in 2019.

Zelensky's political rival, Petro Poroshenko, reportedly told voters that the political newcomer was too inexperienced to be able to effectively stand up to Russia.

Nevertheless, Zelensky would go on to meet Vladimir Putin at a summit in Paris in December 2019, securing a ceasefire agreement.

Putin called the talks an "important step" in a press conference after the talks, according to a BBC News report.

Zelensky, however, offered a contrasting perspective, saying that the results of the meeting were "very little".

Looking back, the newly-elected president had come in with too much optimism for transformation — this was the opinion of Yuriy Vitrenko, the head of energy group Naftogaz, which he shared with the Financial Times.


Zelensky's presidency would come to be known for his unique take on populism, outlined in a policy brief by think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in a section titled "E-politics".

The brief describes how Zelensky communicated directly with the nation, including posting "spontaneous videos of his presidential activities, from his private life, or with important messages for the nation" on platforms such as Instagram.

He also promised to deliver a "state in a smartphone", through expanding access to online government services.

This approach even extended to asking Facebook followers to help choose a governor out of a list of three candidates, in June 2019.


In 2020, Zelensky — along with leaders around the world — would be handed the additional responsibility of leading his country to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He would himself test positive, in November 2020, recovering shortly after.


In the midst of the pandemic, Zelensky would take decisive action against Ukraine's oligarchs — wealthy businessmen with influence in both the commercial and political spheres that harks back to the 1990s, when they were able to snatch up newly-privatised state assets following Ukraine's exit from the former Soviet Union.

"We are building a country without oligarchs," Zelensky reportedly said in May 2021.

Viktor Medvedchuk, a close friend of Putin's, was charged with treason and placed under house arrest, even as influential TV news channels linked to him were banned, and personal sanctions were imposed on him and his businesses.

While Medvedchuk had in previous years been seen as an important link to Russia due to his personal connections in Moscow, a BBC News report said Zelensky may not have shared that view, given the lack of progress toward peace in eastern Ukraine.

With this as the backdrop, Putin would go on to pen an article in July 2021 laying out his views on Ukraine, saying that Russians and Ukrainians are in fact "one people — a single whole".

Putin went on to affirm this point of view in a speech on Feb. 21, just days before the invasion.

"I would like to emphasise again that Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space," he said.

Current status

As of 3:40pm Singapore time on Feb. 25, Russian forces are reportedly hours away from taking control of the capital.

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Top image via Office of the President of Ukraine.