Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine three years ago today, winning 73% of the vote and crushing incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a crushing upset. Despite being a political novice, the former actor and comedian won over the electorate with his bold anti-corruption campaign. Mr. Zelensky’s party “Servant of the People” was named after the sitcom he starred in, in which he played the role of none other than the President of Ukraine.
The former comic’s showbiz background was evident in his public image and carefully cultivated speeches.
But although he was initially popular, cracks soon began to show in the Ukrainian leader’s veneer and his popularity with the public took a nosedive.
The electorate appeared to grow weary of Mr Zelensky as the inexperienced leader was accused of failing to deliver on promises of anti-corruption reforms and ambitious infrastructure projects such as his plan for new roads.
In early 2022, a poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that 60% of Ukrainians did not support the idea of Zelensky running for a second term.
However, a few weeks later, support for Mr Zelensky in Ukraine saw a dramatic turnaround when Russia invaded its former Soviet neighbor on February 24.
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After a week of conflict, more than 90% of Ukrainians said they support their leader, according to a nationwide poll by the Ratings Sociological Group.
Mr Zelensky became a heroic warlord as he pledged to fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion.
In response to an American offer to evacuate him from kyiv, Mr. Zelensky uttered the now immortal phrase: “The fight is here; I need ammo, not a round.
Since the start of the war, the president has stayed in touch with his people by posting numerous updates on the conflict on social media.
He has also addressed parliaments around the world virtually in a bid to seek military aid from the NATO alliance and other countries.
However, Mr. Zelensky’s political inexperience was also noted during this period, with some of his decisions being torn apart by experts.
Last month, Mr. Zelensky banned 11 opposition parties with ties to Russia, most of which were insignificant.
However, one of the parties, the Russian “Opposition Platform for Life”, which spoke out against the Russian invasion, holds 44 seats in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament.
Historian Nigel Jones wrote in the Spectator in March: “This is perhaps the embattled ruler’s first major mistake in the month since Putin launched his brutal invasion.”
Earlier this month, opposition platform leader Viktor Medvedchuk, a key Putin ally, was arrested in Ukraine.
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As Mr Zelensky cracked down on pro-Russian parties, he also merged all national TV stations into a single platform under martial law, saying it was a necessary step for Ukrainian unity.
Mr Jones said: “This could be his second big mistake.
“For Ukraine’s strongest map – the one selling point that has garnered so much sympathy and support from almost everyone in the democratic world – has been the fact that, unlike Putin’s repressive Russian state, it is – or was – a free country.”
The Ukrainian president’s decision-making was also recently set aside by Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of The Kyiv Independent.
In a guest essay for The New York Times a few days before the invasion of Russia, she claimed that after several reshufflings, Mr. Zelensky’s inner circle is now made up of his friends who lack experience running the Ukraine even in normal times.
She wrote: “The circle around the President has become an echo chamber.
“In the process, Mr. Zelensky became a version of the politician he campaigned against: insular, closed, surrounded by ‘yes men’.
“Under normal circumstances, it would be bad enough. But now, with Ukraine under threat from Russia, it may affect Mr. Zelensky’s judgement.
However, there has been no shortage of praise for the Ukrainian president since the start of Putin’s invasion, coming from all corners of the globe.
The head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency, Sir Jeremy Fleming, claimed in a speech in Australia in March that Mr Zelensky’s “extremely effective” information operation had outclassed Putin.
He said, “It’s nimble, cross-platform, multimedia, and extremely well-suited to different audiences.
“You only have to look at the way the Ukrainian flag – a field of sunflowers under a blue sky – flies everywhere, including outside GCHQ, to see how well the message landed.”