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Volodymyr Zelensky: From TV star to war hero – full transcript

Hi, this is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan. It has been almost a month since Russia invaded Ukraine. And amidst the horrors of war, a new and unlikely hero emerged. Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, has become the face of resistance against the powerful authoritarian Putin. He is the symbol of determination shown by the people of Ukraine fighting a David-against-Goliath battle. Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress where he received a standing ovation “Thank you for your support”. The British Parliament, where he once again received a standing ovation and European Union MPs in the European Union Parliament.

The 44-year-old Zelensky began his career as an actor and comedian. Zelensky, born into a Jewish family, spoke Russian fluently like most Ukrainians do. Zelensky had relatives killed in the Holocaust. His grandfather fought in the Soviet army against Nazi Germany. In 2006, Zelensky was the winner of the first season of Ukraine’s version of ‘Dancing With The Stars’. Those dance tracks have gone really viral on social media lately. But he was perhaps best known for his role in a TV comedy called ‘The Servant Of The People’, in which he played a dirty-mouthed teacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a video of his outburst against government viral corruption has become. Does this sound familiar?

When he was elected president in 2019, he actually embraced the name of his television program for his party’s name and defeated former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, by more than 70% of the vote. Despite the overwhelming victory in the elections, however, many in Europe did not initially take Zelensky seriously. According to a piece in The New Yorker, many European officials initially viewed Zelensky as non-serious, saying that his first impressions were terrible. But once he was in the office, he immediately got going. His key campaign promises were to curb corruption and to end the military conflict with Russia in the country’s eastern provinces. One of the first things he did was to remove the immunity enjoyed by members of parliament in Ukraine so that they could be prosecuted in corruption cases. He also ended GDP culture. He chopped off his car stud to just two cars and made sure there were no sirens blaring either. And he ordered government officials to remove his photos because he was the president and rather replace them with photos of their children to remind them what is at stake as far as their work is concerned. Zelensky was not afraid to say at that point that he was learning, that he was new to this and knew very little about what he was supposed to do.

One of the most remarkable things about Zelensky during this conflict was the fact that he refused to leave Ukraine and refused to leave his people. Even now. This is in stark contrast to, for example, what happened recently in Afghanistan. He remained steadfast in the capital Kiev and rallied the country through video speeches, many of them on the street with his own cell phone. In his speech before the invasion, Zelensky was seen wearing a suit and a tie. But once the war really started, he changed into a green military shirt, which he wears even now to address the international community. Photos also showed him visiting wounded soldiers in hospital. Now, this all comes with great risk, because Zelensky would be the first number one target for Russian forces that would try to kill him. But he ventured out of his office and his home despite those risks.

His speeches to Western legislators made him a national hero all over the world. In the British Parliament, for example, he called on Shakespeare and the words of Winston Churchill and told British MPs: “We will not give up and we will not lose. We will fight to the end in the sea, in the air. We “We will fight for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the veld, on the coast, in the streets.” He received a standing ovation with Prime Minister Boris Johnson declaring that the Ukrainian president had stirred the hearts of all in this house.

Whatever happens now, Zelensky has proven to be a courageous leader in times of great trouble and tragedy. And it will always remain his legacy.

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