Vladimir Zelensky: Ukraine's Unconventional President
Vladimir Oleksandrovich Zelensky, a Ukrainian-Jewish statesman, has held the presidency of Ukraine since May 20, 2019. He is the founder of the "Servant of the People" party. Prior to his political career, Zelensky was a well-known figure in the entertainment industry, working as a comedian, screenwriter, actor, producer, and director, as well as serving as the artistic director of the "Studio Quarter 95."
Zelensky first gained widespread recognition for his portrayal of the Ukrainian president in the popular television series "Servant of the People," which began in 2015. In March 2018, he founded a political party bearing the same name as the series, "Servant of the People," alongside members of the production company Studio Quarter 95, who also created the TV series.
In December of that year, Zelensky announced his candidacy for the presidency during a live broadcast. In the presidential elections, he secured a resounding victory over the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, with a decisive 73% of the vote in the second round.
Following his inauguration in May 2019, Zelensky called for early parliamentary elections. His party achieved unprecedented success in these elections, becoming the largest party in the Ukrainian parliament without the need for a coalition.
Upon assuming the presidency, Zelensky became the youngest president in Ukraine's history at the age of 41. He is also the first Jewish president of Ukraine and won the highest popular vote percentage (73%) during his election.
In his inaugural address, Zelensky outlined his priorities, including ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine and regaining control over the "Crimean Peninsula and Donbas."
Zelensky's tenure has seen efforts to improve relations with Russia, with negotiations on prisoner exchanges and a new gas deal aimed at normalizing Ukraine-Russia relations. He has been vocal about his view that the Soviet Union, like Nazi Germany, bears responsibility for the outbreak of World War II, citing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Vladimir Zelensky was born on January 25, 1978, into a Jewish family in Kryvyi Rih, Soviet Ukraine (now Ukraine). Before attending elementary school, he spent four years in Mongolia, in the city of Erdenet, where his father, Oleksandr Samoilovich Zelensky, worked as a professor and computer science researcher at a university. His mother, Rimma Zelenska, was an engineer by training.
Contrary to his eventual career in politics, Zelensky initially aspired to become a diplomat and never professionally pursued a legal career. He studied law at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kryvyi Rih. However, he never worked in the legal field.
Zelensky's entertainment career began at the age of seventeen when he joined the local KVN comedy group. Together with Alexander Pikalov, Denis Manzhosov, and Yuriy Krapov, he later founded Studio Quarter 95 in 1997.
From 1998 to 2003, Studio Quarter 95 competed in the KVN Premier League. The team members lived in Moscow, Russia, and traveled extensively for competitions.
In 2003, Zelensky left KVN, and Studio Quarter 95 began producing television programs for the 1+1 channel. In 2005, the group switched to producing content for Inter TV channel. Their project "Evening Quarter," launched in collaboration with Inter TV in 2005, achieved high ratings and became comparable to "Comedy Club" and KVN in popularity.
Zelensky's foray into the film industry included starring in the popular comedy film "Love in the Big City" in 2008 and its sequel, "Love in the Big City 2." In 2011, he continued his cinematic career with "Love in the Big City 3" and took the lead role in the 2012 film "Rzhevsky vs. Napoleon." Zelensky also starred in "8 New Dates," released in 2015. Notably, he produced and wrote scripts for many of the films he appeared in.
Due to his involvement in the Ukrainian version of "Dancing with the Stars" in 2006, Zelensky became a household name across Ukraine. He was widely recognized for his contributions to Ukrainian culture and entertainment.
From 2010 to 2012, Zelensky was a key producer and a member of the directorate at Inter TV channel.
In 2015, Zelensky began starring in the television series "Servant of the People," where he portrayed a high school history teacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a viral video exposes his impassioned anti-corruption speech. The show primarily targeted Russian-speaking audiences.
Vladimir Zelensky's political journey took an unexpected turn when Ukrainian media reported that Studio Quarter 95 had donated one million hryvnias to the Ukrainian army during the conflict in Donbas. In response, Russian politicians and artists collected signatures calling for the Ukrainian society to boycott those who worked with Russia.
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, commented that "Moscow should not be like Kyiv" and should not impose "blacklists" or restrictions on Ukrainian culture and figures. Lavrov also argued that Russian filmmakers and the cultural industry should consider retaliatory measures when collaborating with foreign actors on Ukrainian projects.
In August 2014, Zelensky spoke out against the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture's intention to ban Russian artists from performing in Ukraine.
The "Servant of the People" political party was formed in March 2018 by members of Studio Quarter 95, the same group responsible for the television series of the same name. Zelensky declared his affiliation with the party at the end of December 2018 and his political activism.
It was only after this announcement that he began to act in the Ukrainian language, starring in the romantic comedy "I, You, He, She" in 2018. This production marked the first Ukrainian-language project produced by Studio Quarter 95. The television program "Servant of the People" primarily targeted Russian-speaking audiences.
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