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New Zelensky Biography Reveals First Meeting With Putin: ‘Bundle of Nerves’

When Russia’s Vladimir Putin began a military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, it was widely assumed that Ukraine would surrender quickly. Instead, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky—an actor-turned-politician famous for playing an actor-turned-politician in Servant of the People—refused to budge, withstood multiple assassination attempts and rallied his people to fight. He pleaded with the international community to implement sanctions on the Russians and to provide weapons and ammunition for the Ukrainians. How did Zelensky accomplish this transformation? Where did he first take Putin’s measure? Read about it in this exclusive advance look from Ukrainian journalist and political commentator Serheii Rudenko’s upcoming Zelensky: A Biography (Polity Books, July 18), in which he explores Zelensky’s life and governing style, from his childhood through the beginnings of the war.

In the beginning was the word. Or rather, several words. And, more precisely, the name of the TV series: Servant of the People.
Then there was a political party with the same name.
Without an ideology.
Without local party cells.
Without party members.
With absolutely nothing behind it, the party already had a 4 percent following in December 2017.

For most of its supporters, the Servant of the People Party was political entertainment: a convention with Coca-Cola, pizza, and shawarma (a gyro sandwich), a selfie with a popular actor, memes such as “Let It Be the Stadium Then” and “Let’s Beat Them All Together,” Volodymyr Zelensky’s phenomenal victory, a cinematic inauguration. A young, handsome and quick-witted leader. However, the phenomenon of the Servant of the People Party was precisely the fact that it was perceived as a project of the protagonist of the film version, Vasyl Holoborodko, rather than that of the real president, Zelensky.

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