Unshaven and in olive green khaki shirts, President Zelensky has taped messages to his compatriots on the Internet to bolster morale and emphasize that he is going nowhere and will stay to defend Ukraine. “We are here. Honor to Ukraine!” he declares.
His bravery and refusal to leave Kyiv as rockets rain down on the capital have made President Volodymyr Zelenskyy an unlikely hero to a world whose eyes are fixated on the Ukraine. With courage, good humor, and grace under fire, he has rallied and united his people, and impressed his Western counterparts. The somewhat stocky, dark-haired, 44-year-old former actor has stayed the course, even though he says he and his family are the No. 1 targets of the Russian invaders. Even after an offer from Joe Biden to transport him to the United States for safety, Zelenskyy shot back on Saturday: “I need ammunition, not a ride,” according to a senior American intelligence official with direct knowledge of the conversation.
Zelenskyy has used his personal history (grandfather fought in the Soviet Army against the Nazis, while other family died in the Holocaust), to demonstrate that his country is a country of possibility and not the hate-filled polity of Putin’s imagination. In spite of a dark history of antisemitism that goes back centuries to Cossack pogroms and, in the last century, collaborations with Nazi genocide during World War II, Ukraine with Zelenskyy’s election in 2019, became the only country outside of Israel with both a president and prime minister who were Jewish.
Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, have a 17-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. He said they remain with him in Ukraine and will not be joining the exodus of mainly women and children refugees seeking safety abroad. Similarly, six decades ago, when the Nazis bombed London during the Blitz in World War 2 and demolished part of Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, wife of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II, was asked if she and her two young daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, would leave London. She replied, “The girls will not leave unless I do. I will not leave unless the King does. And the King will not leave under any circumstances whatsoever.”
President Zelenskyy “has shown a stiff upper lip. He has demonstrated enormous physical courage, refusing to sit in a bunker but instead traveling openly with soldiers, and an unwavering patriotism that few expected from a Russian speaker from eastern Ukraine. To his great credit, he has been unmovable,” wrote Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center for Foreign Affairs last Friday. “The war has transformed the former comedian from a provincial politician with delusions of grandeur into a bona fide statesman,”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Protect Children in Ukraine
Children are the least responsible for armed conflict in Ukraine, but they suffer most from its consequences. Your 100% tax-deductible donation will help UNICEF ensure that Ukraine’s children have access to safe water, nutrition, health care, education and protection. Less than 3% of funds go to administrative costs. www.unicefusa.org
Ukrainian Red Cross
The Ukrainian Red Cross does loads of humanitarian work, from aiding refugees to training doctors. To donate, log onto www.redcross.org.ua/en/donate
CARE International is responding to the crisis by providing Ukrainians in need with food, hygiene kits, psychosocial support services, access to water, and access to cash. www/my.care.org
UNHRC has stepped up its operations and is working with governments in neighboring countries “calling on them to keep borders open to those seeking safety and protection.” You can help support refugees by donating here. www.donate.unhcr.org