Vladimir Putin has been spreading the big lie that Russian troops had to invade their neighbor in order to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. But most Russians can’t believe that big lie because the Ukrainian government is headed by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who kept them laughing for years.
Many Russians might not be aware that Zelenskyy is Jewish, lost many family members in the Holocaust, and is more anti-Nazi than the prime-time crew on Fox News. The Washington Post reported that just days before his inauguration as Ukraine’s president on May 9, 2021—Victory Day—Zelenskyy visited the grave of his grandfather, Semyon Ivanovich Zelenskyy, who fought against the Nazis in the Soviet Union’s Red Army during World War II. His grandfather was the only one of four brothers to survive the Holocaust. Semyon’s parents, the families of his brothers, and other relatives were all killed. In a Facebook post that day, Zelenskyy wrote: “[Semyon] went through the whole war and remain[s] forever in my memory one of those heroes who defended Ukraine from the Nazis. Thanks for the fact that the inhuman ideology of Nazism is forever a thing of the past. Thanks to those who fought against Nazism—and won.”
But that’s not the main reason many Russians can’t swallow the BS that Putin is peddling about Zelenskyy posing a threat to Russia. For more than 20 years as a comedian and actor—in live performances, television, and films—Zelenskyy had been making millions of Russians and Ukrainians alike laugh.
As a teenager, he founded the popular comedy outfit Kvartal 95. Most of his performances were in Russian, his first language. He also was not particularly anti-Russian: In 2014, despite Russia’s annexing of Crimea and stoking revolt in eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy spoke out against the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture’s plan to ban Russian artists from the country.
So let me introduce you to another side of Zelenskyy’s life that many of you might not know about—his career as an entertainer. And if you want to choose an outsider and TV personality to run the country it’s better to go with a successful comedian rather than a failed businessman reliant on financing from Russian oligarchs.
Let’s start with one routine in which Zelenskyy demonstrated a most unorthodox way of playing the piano. Anonymous: If you’re listening, please hack Russian TV and put this on a 24-hour loop. There’s a longer version on YouTube.
In 2005, Zelenskyy won Ukraine’s version of Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), demonstrating some pretty good moves.
Maybe that’s why Putin-lovin’ traitor Tucker Carlson dislikes Zelenskyy so much—the Fox News host gave one of the worst-ever performances on the U.S. version of DWTS. His Russian partner, Elena Grinenko, tried to prop him up, but couldn’t prevent Tucker from being eliminated in week one.
And here’s Zelenskyy’s brief summation of Ukraine-Russia relations over the centuries.
Zelenskyy also recorded the voice of Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian dubbing of the films Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017).
About the biggest threat Zelenskyy ever posed to Russia was when he played the role of Napoleon in the lewd 2012 Russian film comedy Rzhevskiy vs. Napoleon. The French emperor has conquered Moscow in 1812 and the Russians need to make him linger there because their army is weak and unprepared and needs time. So they decide to send Lt. Rzhevskiy, the most famous tempter in Russia, disguised as a woman to seduce Napoleon. The plot goes awry when Rzhevskiy meets the woman of his dreams—Miss Moscow 1810. The film even has a cameo by Jean-Claude Van Damme.
But then in 2016, Zelenskyy produced and starred in the Ukrainian sitcom, A Servant of the People, which, as unlikely as it sounds, was the making of a president. Zelenskyy stars as an underpaid high school history teacher who gets no respect from his family and the school administration. One day he just loses it in a private conversation after his students are sent off to build summer cottages for wealthy politicians. He goes on a profanity-laced rant against government corruption in Ukraine.
One of his students stayed behind and records the rant on his smart phone. The video goes viral across Ukraine and the students urge their teacher to run for president. They use crowd-funding to raise the 2 million hryvnas he needs to register his candidacy. With the video alone and no campaign, he gets elected president with two-thirds of the vote, defeating the candidates backed by various oligarchs.
Here is the video (with English subtitles) of the first episode:
And then, unexpectedly, life began resembling art.
In order to prevent any other politicians from stealing the name “Servant of the People,” Zelenskyy’s Kvartal 95 production company founded a political party with the same name as the sitcom in late 2017 and registered it in March 2018. Servant of the People became an actual centrist party.
Zelenskyy announced his presidential candidacy in a New Year’s Eve speech on Dec. 31, 2018. In April 2019, he won the second-round presidential run-off election against incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with 73% of the vote. (Poroshenko, by the way, is standing together with Zelenskyy in the defense of Kyiv.)
As president, Zelenskyy wasn’t particularly anti-Russian. He sought to reconcile the Ukraine’s Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking parts of the country. He also tried to engage in talks with Putin about negotiating an end to the revolt by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region. He supported Ukraine’s membership in the EU and NATO.
In December 2019, the Russian TV channel TNT aired the pilot episode of Servant of the People, but hastily had to cut one scene. TNT did not air any more episodes of the show, but offered it on its streaming service. Kvartal 95 posted the entire series on YouTube for free, where the first episode has received more than 14 million hits.
In the scene (at the 15:00 mark), the president-elect’s handlers are giving him a makeover to upgrade his image. They show him a box of luxury watches, and point to a French Hublot watch which Putin wears.
Zelensky’s character then asks “Putin—Hublot?”
The joke references a popular, anti-Putin chant that Ukrainian football fans first started chanting at matches in March 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea weeks after a popular revolt ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.
The chant is “Putin khuylo,” which translates as “Putin is a dickhead.”