Up until his decision to run for president in Ukraine’s 2019 election, Volodymyr Zelensky was largely absent from the country’s political history. He played no role in the two upheavals that shook Maidan Square in Kyiv in the first two decades of this century: the Orange Revolution of 2004 and 2005 that compelled election officials to scrap a fraudulent runoff, and the deadly clashes in 2014 that forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from power and invited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first military intervention. Zelensky didn’t even do his compulsory military service. His draft-dodging has long prompted jeers from political opponents.
So you would expect a new biography of the Ukrainian leader to explain how Zelensky made the transition from successful comedian and television mogul to vaunted wartime leader—complete with comparisons to Britain’s Winston Churchill.
Ukrainian journalist Serhii Rudenko’s slim Zelensky: A Biography doesn’t quite do that. The 200-page book came out in Ukrainian last year, well before this February’s Russian invasion. The author added a few scenes to the recently published English-language edition that depict Zelensky as a wartime leader: in Bucha and in the opening hours of the war. But they add little or nothing to the public record.
What Rudenko does provide is a portrait of Zelensky during his first nearly two years in office, when his presidency looked a lot like one more season of his popular television show Servant of the People—slapdash and chaotic. (As an actor, Zelensky played a schoolteacher who, in very unlikely circumstances, becomes president. In real life, he gave his political party the same name as his show.)
[Read more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/09/03/volodymyr-zelensky-biography-review-rudenko-ukraine-president/]