Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky celebrates his 45th birthday on Jan 25. He does so in circumstances he would hardly have imagined little over a year ago. The occasion provides an opportune moment to reflect on the performance and character of the president, supreme military commander, and the man himself.
As with all Ukrainians, Russia’s war against their country has changed the president. Tasked with huge responsibilty he has become one of the most popular, recognizable and inspiring politicians in the world, Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”, and someone with whom stars and world leaders are eager to meet.
When Ukraine was suddenly attacked by Russia in February 2022, the president’s appearance also visibly changed. Gone was the trademark clean shaven appearance, dark suit and white shirt. In its place came military garb and army green, often bearing Ukraine’s national emblem, His face carries stubble and has become noticeably more wrinkled – each line a symbolic mark of experience.
Since famously declaring “I need weapons, not a ride,” the president has won the hearts, minds and respect of Ukrainians everywhere. Now, it is even more important for him to to keep them with him as he leads Ukraine towards liberation and a free European future.
Zelensky will receive greetings from his family, team members and critics alike, as well as world leaders. Kyiv Post offers warm wishes too.
On the occasion of his birthday, Kyiv Post spoke to supporters, opponents and opinion leaders about him.
Andriy Yermak, head of the President's Office
Photo of the press service
"Desperate times call for desperate measures. But to take desperate measures, you need an iron character. Over the past year, Volodymyr Zelensky has proven he has exactly that, and on many critical occasions. Now, beyond any doubt, he has become a true leader of the free world.
"Zelensky is the first contemoraray statesman to directly and openly call out good and evil for what they really are, both publicly and in private. He is brutally honest, and it works. We have a coalition of the willing, and allies across the world have flocked to stand beside Ukraine.
"We have a president who remains humble and close to ordinary people, bringing empathy. He feels, he listens and he understands. And despite that, he doesn’t think of himself as some kind of exceptional hero: he's just doing the best he can in post."
Ihor Lutsenko, soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU)
"It seems to me that Volodymyr Zelensky has evolved from cosmopolitan modern president to someone leading an age-old anti-imperial struggle.
"As for his ability to manage processes and understand what to strive for, we have seen a steady evolution.
"A key challenge now is corruption rather than competence, which unfortunately still hinders the heroism of the people. I wish Zelensky success in overcoming this problem – we have no choice."
David Arakhamia, head of the "Servant of the People" parliamentary faction
Photo of the press service
"Over the past year, the president has probably seen pain and grief on an unimaginable scale and it has left an impression on him. He has become tougher and sometimes sharper, but still has a visible human side.
"For Zelensky, the work of the president of Ukraine has become his life. He works every day for about 17-18 hours and sleeps 5-6 hours. For many months, work and responsibility for the country have squeezed a lot out of the person we knew before Feb. 24.
"Therefore, on his birthday, I would like to wish our president some time for himself, and to spend at least a little time with his family and children. It seems to me that they suffer the most from the fact that he is at work around the clock."
Mykola Knyazhytskyi, people's deputy of the "European Solidarity" parliamentary faction
Photo by Olena Cherninka
"Volodymyr Zelensky is leading a country fighting for its freedom against full-scale Russian aggression. This is his big plus. Another positive aspect of his presidency over the past eleven months has been his foreign policy activities. For the whole world, he has personified the heroic resistance of ordinary Ukrainians. He has shown people across the world the qualities of Ukrainians who are fighting Russia’s invasion on various fronts.
"It's definitely a positive characteristic that President Zelensky tries not to interfere in the activities of the military, even though he is the Supreme Commander of the AFU.
"True, not everything is going smoothly.
"What has not changed during the 'great war' compared to the period until Feb. 24 last year, is the focus on ratings, the continuation of corruption and authoritarian manifestations in the management of the state. The president and his entourage have also not always hidden a certain jealousy of the popularity of General Valery Zaluzhny.
"These things have shown that many members of the president's team have neither understood nor learned anything."
Oleksandr Lemyenov, chairman of the board of the non-governmental expert organization StateWatch
"President Zelensky has changed a lot over the past year, and the war has changed his perception of the state and how it works.
"Currently, due to martial law, we have a presidential republic. The single decision-making center is the Office of the President (OP). The president has a majority in parliament and his own Cabinet of Ministers. They are coping well with current external challenges. On the domestic front, there are problems in the law enforcement and judicial systems, but Zelensky is doing well as commander-in-chief.
"I would advise him to be more trusting of parliament, as one of the branches of power. And also to dismiss several people from the OP. This should include Oleg Tatarov, deputy head of the OP, whose continued presence makes it difficult to say that the president is successfully responding to both external and internal challenges.
"As of now, it is admittedly difficult for me to say whether he will be as successful a president in peacetime, and following victory, as he is a president of war. But we shall see."
Evgenia Kravchuk, people's deputy of the 'Servant of the People' parliamentary faction
"President Zelensky has shown himself to be a real leader of the state. To a certain extent, he has become a symbol of Ukraine’s fight – never giving up.
"Zelensky communicates with the world perfectly. I have talked a lot with international politicians and journalists, and everyone describes him as charismatic and someone who conveys information about the situation in Ukraine well. He speaks not only to the establishment, but also to ordinary people in various countries.
"Therefore, the consolidation of international support that Ukraine now sees, is largely down to the the merit of the president. And he needs our help and support as we continue the fight for our future."
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