Ukrainian academic Olga Baysha details Volodymyr Zelensky’s embrace of widely loathed neoliberal policies, his repression of rivals, and how his actions fueled the current war with Russia.
A comedic actor who rose to the country’s highest office in 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was virtually unknown to the average American, except perhaps as a bit player in the Trump impeachment theater. But when Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Zelensky was suddenly transformed to an A-list celebrity in US media. American news consumers were bombarded with images of a man who appeared overcome by the tragic events, possibly in over his head, but ultimately sympathetic. It didn’t take long for that image to evolve into the khaki-clad, tireless hero governing over a scrappy little democracy and single-handedly staving off the barbarians of autocracy from the east.
But beyond that carefully crafted Western media image is something much more complicated and less flattering. Zelensky was elected by 73 percent of the vote on a promise to pursue peace while the rest of his platform was vague. On the eve of the invasion, however, his approval rating had sunk to 31 percent due to the pursuit of deeply unpopular policies.