Alan Zendell, February 27, 2022
Every major conflict produces heroes; sometimes they’re not the people you might expect. The hero of the first week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is, hands down, Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. If the indiscriminate Nazi bombing of London was England’s (perhaps the world’s) darkest hour, the current assault by 200,000 Russian military is surely Ukraine’s. The comparison is apt for another reason.
When I see and hear Zelensky rallying his people in the streets of Kyiv (when did the capital’s name change from Kiev?) I can only think of Winston Churchhill. In reviewing Erik Larson’s book, The Splendid and the Vile, Smithsonian Magazine writer David Kindy described Churchhill’s role like this: “For 57 consecutive nights in 1940, Nazi Germany tried to bring England to its knees. Waves of planes pummeled cities with high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices as part of a campaign to break the English spirit and destroy the country’s capacity to make war. One man stood strong against the onslaught: Winston Churchill, [the] defiant prime minister who almost singlehandedly willed his nation to resist.” The article is accompanied by photographs of Churchhill visiting bombed out homes and churches, reassuring his people and encouraging them to fight on to defend their homeland.
The other person who comes to mind when I watch Zelensky is comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart, late of the The Daily Show. Many people have described Zelensky as Ukraine’s Stewart, because he, too, was a standup comedian who spoke out against the anti-democratic actions of his government. He is also an actor who starred in a Ukrainian television series about a Stewart-like character whose anti-government rants went viral all over the country. When the show was canceled, Zelensky ran for president to replace Petro Poroshenko who served for one year after corrupt pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned his office, fled the country, and was subsequently impeached..
Zelensky won with 73% of the vote, a number reached in American elections only by George Washington, who was elected unanimously, and in the narcissistic delusions of Donald Trump…speaking of whom, it was Zelensky from whom Trump tried to extort a political favor during the 2020 election, a violation of federal election laws that resulted in Trump’s second impeachment. With all the lies and disinformation campaigns by a combination of Trump supporters and Russian propaganda, we didn’t really know who Zelensky was back then, but we do now. Who would have expected a cross between Jon Stewart and Winston Churchhill to become a charismatic figure revered by the entire non-Communist world? Scenes of Zelensky out in the streets of Kyiv, refusing offers of evacuation to a safe place, armed and vowing to fight the Russian invaders himself have been seen by billions of people, most of whom are rallying to his cause.
It’s not unreasonable to credit Zelensky with the stout defense put up by the Ukrainian military against vastly superior numbers. Their courage and grit have given the rest of the world breathing space to work out how to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the invasion, which has resulted in several days of ever increasing unity among Europe, NATO, the United States, and even neutral nations of Africa and the Middle East. If the Russian invasion ultimately fails to achieve its objective, Zelensky will be the hero of his time.
There’s a kind of irony about Volodymyr Zelensky that’s very personal to me. Putin called Zelensky and his Cabinet a bunch of neo-Nazis and drug dealers – was he unaware that Zelensky is Jewish? The whole world knows he is now, and that is the best part of Zelensky’s saga for me. After years of Bernie Madoff, Michael Cohen, Stephen Miller, Steve Mnuchin, and Jared Kushner, all of whom I view as poster children for anti-Semitism, it’s a great relief to see a prominent Jewish leader stand tall. It even makes sense as the Nazi-like, anti-Semitic White Supremacist movement in the United States aligns itself with the Pro-Putin Trumpers.
Apparently, people in the United States and around the world, as Wolf Blitzer might say, are buying Ukrainian flags and flying them in honor and support of Zelensky and the Ukrainian people. What a wonderful idea! I just checked Amazon.com, and you can buy a three by five foot Ukrainian flag in its bright blue and yellow colors for as little as $5.79. I love the idea of Putin seeing millions of them flying in his face all over the world whenever he turns on his TV.
Zelensky is a badass! And I recently learned that Kyiv is actually the Ukrainian spelling (“Keev”). Kiev is Russian. I remember Fiona Hill using Kyiv during the impeachment hearings and wondering if I had been saying it wrong.