Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has had one of the most unusual career paths of any politician today, with a rise to power that feels more suited to a BlackMirror storyline than reality.
Zelensky, 44, went from being a comedian and playing the fictional president on a TV show to being the current leader of Ukraine and defending his country against Russia.
Here is a summary of his career in showbusiness…
Zelensky graduated university with a law degree, but he had become involved in the theater while studying.
In 2005, when he was 27, Zelensky starred in the lead role of D’Artagnan in a musical-comedy TV movie of The Three Musketeers, which he also wrote. Zelensky’s version of Alexandre Dumas’s classic story saw D’Artagnan go to Paris to join de Treville’s regiment, only to find out that the regiment was female and all the musketeers were women.
The following year, he was the champion of Ukraine’s version of Dancing with the Stars. A video of him performing on the show, which you can watch below, has gone viral.
He also co-wrote and starred in a film called No Love in the City, in which three Russian expats who “are loving life and seducing women in New York City” meet up with Saint Valentine in disguise and “he curses them with impotence until they learn about true love”. There were two sequels and a TV series, in which Zelensky also starred.
Zelensky wrote and starred in another romcom called OfficeRomance. present-day as a city worker called Anatoly Novoseltsev. The logline for the movie reads: “Meet Liudmila Kalugina. She’s a young businesswoman, CEO of her own company, though not liked by her dependents and sparing no time for a personal life. Everything changes when she gets to know Anatoly Novoseltsev, a financial analyst and a single father of two daughters. Will an office romance bloom from that?”
In 2012, he appeared in a war comedy, Corporal vs Napoleonabout the Russians trying to beat Napoleon by sending a beautiful woman to seduce him so he will “think about making love, not war”.
Next, Zelensky featured in a groundhog day-esque movie, 8 First Dates, as a man who keeps reliving the same 24 hours. There were two sequels, and Zelensky starred in both.
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He also voiced Paddington in the Ukrainian version of the hit children’s film – a piece of news that delighted British actor Hugh Bonneville, who starred as the bear’s foster father Henry Brown in the original.
“Until today I had no idea who provided the voice of Paddington Bear in Ukraine,” he tweeted on Sunday 27 February.
“Speaking for myself, thank you, President Zelensky.”
The role that changed Zelensky’s life was in the satirical TV series Servant of the People.
He starred as Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes leader of his country after a video of him slating politicians is viewed by millions of people online.
The show has been likened to a cross between Monty Python and Yes Minister. Zelensky has previously said he is a big Monty Python fan but that his audience was more into Benny Hill-type humor.
After the show became a huge hit, with many citizens relating to its themes of corruption in government and political discontent, Zelensky announced on live television in 2018 that he planned to run for president.
In a case of life imitating art, Zelensky won the 2019 presidential election with a landslide 73 per cent of the vote, beating former leader Petro Poroshenko.
Many of Zelensky’s political advisers are drawn from his comedy studio, Kvartal 95, leading to concern that he is surrounded by people with little experience in governing, let alone diplomacy or war.
However, he has been praised for his response to Russia’s invasion. Zelensky has made it clear he will stay put and help the resistance, despite being a target and being offered extraction out of the country by both the US and Turkey.
He has been quoted as saying: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” The leader has also posted videos of himself bearing arms, standing confidently in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
Read all the updates on the Russia-Ukraine crisis here.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.