Over the last 30 years, many Ukrainians have asked when their nation will finally get its George Washington, a leader who can rally the people and lead it to victory.
The truth is Washington wasn’t born a great man; he became one because of the trials of the Revolutionary War, when he demonstrated his ability to lead and to symbolize the American struggle. A Ukrainian Washington might emerge in a similar manner, and now perhaps he has.
Ukrainians’ question seems to have been answered by an unlikely candidate for the hero role: Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian-turned-president, who many analysts considered would be disastrous for the country. He was elected in a landslide in 2019, and, like most Ukrainian presidents, proceeded to introduce some important reforms before getting bogged down by red tape, internecine power struggles, his own lack of experience — which many Ukrainians called incompetence — and the COVID-19 crisis.
Then, to make things worse, in mid-2021 Zelensky was confronted with a massive Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s borders. He downplayed it for months thereby provoking even more criticism of his administration until it became clear a few weeks ago that Russia’s strongman president, Vladimir Putin, had set his sights on invading Ukraine.
Since then, and especially since Putin officially announced his aggressive intentions and the invasion began, Zelensky has discovered his backbone and acted admirably, even heroically, rallying the nation around the flag, organizing the homeland defense, lobbying foreign countries for support, calming the population with well-delivered patriotic speeches, appealing to Russians to end the madness, and demonstrating that he has no intention of fleeing.
Zelensky’s defiant speeches and selfie videos, shot on the streets of Kyiv, have gone viral. “We are here,” he said calmly into a cellphone camera on Friday, standing with his top advisors. “We are in Kyiv. We are protecting Ukraine.”
The message was clear: He would defend Ukrainian sovereignty and statehood to the very end. Even his most severe critics have been silenced, impressed by Zelensky’s bravery and commitment.
he war for Ukraine is far from over, and Zelensky may yet stumble and lose his aura. In any case, he will go down in history as a new type of Ukrainian patriot who fought for his homeland’s freedom. And in the end, he may deserve to be considered Ukraine’s George Washington.