He’s No Joke: How Volodymyr Zelensky Went From TV President to the Real Deal

President Volodymyr Zelensky


Before leading his nation, the 44-year-old was a comedian.

His leadership through a brutal invasion and impassioned speeches have earned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky international admiration. But before he led a nation, he was a comedian, one of Ukraine’s biggest stars, and an unlikely politician. Here’s a primer on the man of the hour.

Who is Volodymyr Zelensky and his family?

Zelensky, 44, was born in central Ukraine in the city of Kryvyi Rih and raised in an “ordinary Soviet Jewish family.” He graduated from Kyiv National Economic University in 2000 with a law degree.

Is Volodymyr Zelensky married? Who is his wife?

While in university, he met his wife Olena Zelenska, who became a scriptwriter in Zelensky’s production company, Kvartal 95 Studio. They have two daughters, Sasha and Cyril. 

Volodymyr Zelensky‘s acting career, at a glance

Zelensky got his start in comedy as a teenager performing in national comedy competitions before helping to create a multi-million dollar production company in 2003. He toured with a comedy troupe associated with Kvartal 95 and won Ukraine’s Dancing with the Stars in 2006 before starring in a string of romantic comedies that included titles like Love in the Big City and Office Romance. He later voiced the cartoon bear Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian dubbing of the Paddington films.

Volodymyr Zelensky played a TV president

His biggest role has been in the satirical comedy Servant of the People, in which he plays Vasyl Holoborodko, a history teacher who’s anti-corruption rant goes viral, unexpectedly propelling him into the presidency. The show was massively popular in Ukraine.

How to watch Volodymyr Zelensky’s show Servant of the People

And now, the series is taking on a whole new life as more and more people learn about Zelensky’s past. In fact, Netflix announced that by popular demand, Servant of the People has returned to the streaming service, and you can watch it right here.

When did Volodymyr Zelensky become president of Ukraine?

Zelensky used the popularity of the sitcom to kickstart his presidential campaign in 2019. He named his political party after his show and, with zero political experience, shot to the top of a crowded field of candidates. Voters were eager for a fresh face, a reformer committed to rooting out corruption.  

“People want to see a president like [Vasyl Holoborodko], with the same moral values,” Zelensky said. “They’re fed up with the establishment. People want something new.” 

He unseated the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a chocolate tycoon, who throughout the election criticized Zelensky as the sort of weak leader that Russian President Vladimir Putin would walk all over. “He dreams of a soft, submissive, gentle, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically uncertain president. We will gift him this?” Poroshenko asked voters

Zelensky won in a landslide victory, with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Zelensky in his most important role yet

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, and throughout nine days of the war, Zelensky has shined. The former performer has given one impassioned speech after another in an attempt to inspire his countrymen and the world to resist. One moving plea at an E.U. summit pushed European leaders to endorse a harsh set of sanctions on Russia. An unnamed official present for the speech told the New York Times that his intervention will be part of history. 

As the fighting rages on, Zelensky has remained steadfast. He has reportedly outlasted an assassination attempt. American officials offered to evacuate him and his family, to which Zelensky responded: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”