As of the writing of this article, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues. Vladimir Putin’s aim to force a speedy Ukrainian surrender has failed. Weapons from Western allies have bolstered Ukrainian resistance. But the key weapon appears to be a former television actor-comedian—the Ukrainian president.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy (1978-) grew up in a Russian-speaking Ukrainian Jewish family. His family has experienced extremists and war before: Nazis murdered his great-grandparents and three great-uncles during the Holocaust.
In 2015, Zelenskyy landed the lead in a comedy TV series. It featured a high school teacher suddenly elected president of Ukraine. No one realized how quickly fiction would become fact.
In 2019, Zelenskyy became Ukraine’s president for real. (See TV Star Ukraine Prez.) Even before Russia’s actual invasion, the comedian-turned-statesman had his hands full with ongoing cyberattacks, naval clashes, and tensions with Russia.
Yet when Russia invaded on February 24, Zelenskyy rallied his people—and impressed his Western counterparts. He remained in the capital of Kyiv despite a probable target on his back.
His answer to an offer for transport to safety by the United States? “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
He also lashed out at the West’s “ping-pong about who and how should hand over jets” while Russian missile attacks kill and trap civilians. Poland proposed giving Ukraine some of its MiG fighter planes—which Ukrainian pilots know how to fly. But the jets needed to be launched from a NATO air base, and Poland was asking the United States to replenish its air force with American jets. The United States and other NATO countries balked at the suggestion, fearing Russia would perceive such aid as acts of war.
In the war’s early days, Zelenskyy recorded messages intended to bolster morale and emphasize that he is going nowhere but will stay to defend Ukraine. “We are here. Honor to Ukraine,” he says.
Remember Jehoshaphat, king of Judah? The armies of Ammon, Edom, and Moab invaded. His people wanted him to save them. But Jehoshaphat told God, “We are powerless. Our eyes are on You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)
This is the gospel! Humans cannot save themselves. Deliverance comes only from God.
On Putin’s Bad Side
That this young newcomer, campaigning mostly on social media—and condemning widespread political corruption funded by wealthy oligarchs—could claim the country’s top office probably agitated Russian President Vladimir Putin, an old-guard member of the Cold War era. Putin has long aspired to recovering territory lost when the Soviet Union dissolved. One of his goals is to bring Ukraine back under Russian authoritarian rule.
Putin has called Russia’s attack on Ukraine a “special military operation.” He has justified violent aggression by claiming he’s defending parts of eastern Ukraine that include Russians.
Asking for Help
As the war drags on, Zelenskyy continues appealing directly to national leaders across the world for help. He regularly speaks via teleconference to representatives in several countries, including the United States, Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Israel, Japan, Norway, and the rest of the European Union.
Zelenskyy pleads for a no-fly zone over Ukraine to prevent Russian bombing from the air. So far, no country has consented. But some believe his sky-high request serves to make lesser appeals for money and weapons more agreeable.
Meanwhile, Putin continues promising to pull back—sometimes just hours before launching a strike on the very area he promised to relieve. Zelenskyy isn’t buying it—“not a single beautiful phrase,” he says.
Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, have a 17-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son. They too have remained in Ukraine, not joining the exodus of mainly women and children refugees seeking safety abroad.
“The war has transformed the former comedian from [an unsophisticated] politician with delusions of grandeur into a bona fide statesman,” says Melinda Haring, a member of an American political think tank.
Haring believes folks could criticize Zelenskyy for not carrying out political reforms quickly enough and for dragging his feet on strengthening Ukraine’s border with Russia. But she says Zelenskyy “has demonstrated enormous physical courage, refusing to sit in a bunker but instead traveling openly with soldiers.” Haring praises his “unwavering patriotism that few expected.”
She adds, “He has been unmovable.”
Why? Wars are no surprise to God, who is still sovereignly working out His plan of creation-fall-redemption-restoration—often using unlikely characters as He fulfills His will on Earth.
Pray for unjust war to cease, for the preservation of human life, and for fearful and suffering people to put their trust in God.