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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was branded a hero yesterday after channelling Winston Churchill in a rousing address to the House of Commons.
The emotional 44-year-old said: “We will fight for our land whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”
His inspiring wartime speech – where he also echoed William Shakespeare – left MPs in tears after he told them 50 children had been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
Signing off the historic address, he said: “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to Great Britain.”
But who exactly is Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
And how did he go from playing a president in a TV comedy just three years ago to now leading Ukraine for real in a deadly conflict with Russia?
Family history / early life
Zelenskyy was born to Jewish parents in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih.
At the time, the country was part of the Soviet Union and Zelenksyy grew up speaking Russian.
His grandfather, Semen Ivanovych Zelensky, fought and survived WWII.
And his great-grandfather and three of his grandfather’s brothers died because of a Nazi invasion of Ukraine.
And Zelenskyy himself said in 2019: “Today I am at the grave of my grandfather Semen Ivanovych Zelensky. He went through the war and remained forever in my memory as one of those heroes who defended Ukraine from the Nazis.
“It is a pity that we so rarely remember veterans, our grandparents. We should be grateful to them every day.”
Although he is Jewish, Zelenskyy keeps that part of his identity private.
He told the Times of Israel in 2020: “Of course, I believe in God. But I speak with him only in those moments which are personal for me.”
His father was a mathematician while his mother was an engineer.
Zelenskyy was 12 when his country gained independence after the Soviet Union collapsed and as a boy he enjoyed British rock music.
He later became a qualified lawyer, but he chose to pursue a career in entertainment instead.
Zelenskyy first became a recognised figure on TV when he appeared on Ukraine’s version of Strictly Come Dancing wearing a pink jumpsuit in 2006.
The then 28-year-old actually won the competition – and in 2014, he played the voice of Paddington Bear in the Ukraine version of the film.
"You know you will definitely walk out of the film in a fantastic mood,” he said after its release.
The popular entertainer is also a fitness fanatic and is known to post workout selfies on social media.
And the TV comic reached the pinnacle of his entertainment career by playing a Ukrainian president on a successful show called Servant of the People that aired from 2015 to 2019.
It was produced by his own company, Kvartal 95 Studio, and was based on a teacher who accidentally became president after a video emerged of him discussing corruption.
Ironically, the show broadcast its final episodes only weeks before Zelenskyy became president.
He also voices his support to other Ukrainian entertainers, particularly athletes, including posting his congratulations to Olexsandry Usyk after he defeated Anthony Joshua at Wembley Stadium last year.
Zelenskyy was also a vocal supporter of Ukrainian competitors at last year’s Olympics in Tokyo, as well as the national football team during international tournaments.
In 2018 Zelenskyy shocked fans by announcing his intention to go into politics.
He told citizens that he wanted to fight corruption on their behalf and to follow his character’s footsteps for real.
And in a now famous quote, he said: “You don’t need experience to be President. You just need to be a decent human being.”
Despite having no political experience, he won the presidential election in 2019 by a landslide.
He scooped victory comfortably after many citizens felt disenfranchised by the administrations of the past – and they saw pro-West Zelenskyy as representing something different.
Zelenskyy became Ukraine's first Jewish president and when Russia invaded in an unprovoked attack, he proved he was a man of action and not just a great talker.
That's because he gained the affection of millions after refusing an offer from the US to remove him from his war-torn country.
Instead, he said: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”
The charismatic leader married his wife Olena, also known as Ze, in 2003.
They went to the same school together and were born less than two weeks apart.
The pair first dated at university before going on to have two kids – Aleksandra, 17 and Kiril, nine.
But despite being happily married, his recent courage has caught the eyes of other women from afar, including here in the UK.
Even “Britain's most famous swinger” – known as Vista Wife – posted on Instagram offering him free access to her OnlyFans in a tongue in cheek post.
She said: “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, if you get a chance to see this… you can have free access to my OF! Anything for the Moral.”
Emma Salisbury added in a viral tweet: “BREAKING: Every woman in your life now has at least a small crush on Volodymyr Zelenskyy and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.”
Zelenskyy also wooed fans after posing shirtless for his Covid-19 jab, unlike most world leaders who went for the rolled up shirt look.
Zelenskyy now has 15million Instagram followers and remains in Kyiv leading the charge against Russia’s military might.
His spine-tingling speech via video link yesterday drew recognition from both Boris Johnson and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Starmer said: “He has shown his strength and we must show him and the Ukrainian people our commitment and our support.”
Johnson added: “Never before has the House listened to such an address.”
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said Zelenskyy should be given an honorary knighthood.
- Russia Ukraine war
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