From Stage to Presidential Palace: How Did Zelensky Rise to Power and How Did it Change Him?

© AP Photo / Ukrainian Presidential Press OfficeEkaterina Blinova

Exactly four years ago, Ukrainian actor and entertainer Volodymyr Zelensky was sworn in as the nation’s sixth president. People who personally knew Zelensky have told Sputnik about his transformation from a popular comedian into a politician.

Zelensky’s ascent to power was really impressive: having zero experience in politics, the 41-year-old outperformed his rival, then-President Petro Poroshenko, by a staggering 49% margin. On May 20, 2019, Zelensky was inaugurated as the sixth president of Ukraine.

But how did Zelensky enter politics and end up in the presidential palace?

‘Came as the President of Peace’

Back then, Ukraine was suffering from endemic corruption and internal political strife, hostilities in Donbass exhausted the nation. “I would call it a syndrome of the driven-to-despair electorate,” Mikhail Grushevsky, a stage artist and showman told Sputnik. He believes Zelensky’s landslide victory “was caused by utter despair and a feeling of hopelessness,.

“[Zelensky] came as the president of peace, as a man who promised peace to Donbass and all of Ukraine,” Grushevsky said. “And I remember we all listened to his first speech in the Rada [the Ukrainian Parliament – Sputnik], when he switched from Ukrainian to Russian and said that [the people in the east of Ukraine] were ‘our people: They are as dear to us as other Ukrainians.’ But it was just a pose. And I think that they voted for the person who promised them just that.”

Ukrainians wanted someone new, they were tired of corrupt politicians, believes Yuri Kot, dean of the Faculty of Media Communications and Audiovisual Arts of the Moscow State Institute of Cinematography and author of the book “Ukrainians! We are Russians!”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a press conference on the first anniversary of his presidency, May 20, 2020.

A Master of Disguise

Zelensky came to prominence as a showman, actor and a comedian, who owes much of his success to Russia and the economic gains of being popular in such a big country.

In 1998, “Kvartal 95”, a comedy team from Krivoy Rog State University led by Zelensky, made a successful debut in KVN (“The Club of Jolly Quick-Wits”), a Russian TV program in which teams of university students from post-Soviet spaces compete in a battle of wits. Zelensky’s team played in KVN’s highest league until 2003. In subsequent years, he made various shows and series for Ukrainian and Russian audiences, worked as an actor, screenwriter and producer – and was quite popular

“We crossed paths in different situations, starting from the joint organization of celebrations,” recalled Kot. “Plus we were friends. Of course, we had mutual friends; we rested together from time to time. (…) [Zelensky] was a man with a hidden agenda, anyway. When he says something it doesn’t mean he thinks so.”

“It is no coincidence that people say ‘beware of a silent dog and still water’,” said Volodymyr Oleynyk, a Ukrainian politician and former PM of the Verkhovna Rada, who recalled his first impression of Zelensky being a nice non-aggressive guy. “Zelensky is a master of disguise. Now he has got into this character so deeply and believed that the whole world is listening to him.”

Being an entertainer did Zelensky dream of a political career? Unlikely, argued Oleynyk. Had Zelensky really planned to go into politics he would have never made silly and insulting jokes about Ukraine or engaged in murky financial schemes which later became his curse, he said

Moreover, Zelensky appeared to be completely unprepared for debates with then-President Petro Poroshenko: Zelensky did not even know the Constitution of the country he sought to take the reins of, as per the ex-Cherkassy mayor.

“He entered politics from the back door,” the ex-mayor told Sputnik. “And when some people draw parallels saying ‘look, [Ronald] Reagan was an actor too’, these comparisons are inappropriate because Reagan was a great actor for the American people. And he was also a governor. He was a congressman, people saw him. This is a rather difficult path when one is seen walking the talk. And [Zelensky] was seen only on the stage, where he joked, where he mocked Ukraine […] where he made such jokes about state symbols that many would not forgive him for. And then he made it straight to the presidency. He was neither an MP nor a mayor, so that people could judge him by his deeds. What could he do, except for jokes?”

Even now he is not the president of Ukraine in earnest, but is just playing the role, noted Oleynik. However, while previously people laughed at his jokes now they are crying, added the Ukrainian politician.

Ihor Kolomoisky, appointed head of the Dnepropetrovsk region, at a meeting chaired by Verkhovna Rada Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, appointed acting president of Ukraine, in Kiev. © Sputnik / Mikhail Markiv

Independent Politician?

Zelensky has never been an independent politician, according to Sputnik’s interlocutors.

“It is difficult for me to judge whose exact project Zelensky is. I heard different versions, mentioning both the CIA and the British MI6. It’s entirely possible that it’s both, really. One does not contradict the other. Naturally, everyone understands that behind him was the figure of an odious man named Kolomoisky,” said Grushevsky.

“[Kolomoisky] is a man who, in fact, brought [Zelensky] into the political orbit as his protégé. Well, and then all the rest gradually came, but first of all, it was Kolomoisky,” echoed Kot.

Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoisky is currently under FBI investigation for financial crimes. He is also infamous for funding and supporting notorious neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist battalions, including the Azov*, Aidar, Donbass, Dnepr 1, and Dnepr 2 in 2014, that terrorized Russian speakers and maintained secret torture sites in Eastern Ukraine, including the sinister “Biblioteka” (Library) in Mariupol.

Kolomoisky used to control one of the country’s largest media conglomerates: “1+1” Media Group. In 2012, its “1+1” TV channel started to air Zelensky’s comedy show “Kvartal 95”. Their collaboration apparently proved lucrative. Exactly at that time, Zelensky and his partners founded a network of offshore companies, according to the October 2021 bombshell “Pandora Papers” release by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).


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It was “Servant of the People” hosted by Kolomoisky’s 1+1 that became fateful for Zelensky’s political career. The series was created by Zelensky, who starred as Vasily Goloborodko, a school history teacher from Kiev, who accidentally becomes the president of Ukraine and embarks on a mission to fight corruption. The story resonated with Ukrainians and quickly became popular.

When on December 31, 2018, Zelensky announced his intention to run for presidency, it had not been perceived as something outlandish: some Ukrainian believed that he would fight for the common man; the others were ready to vote for anyone except Poroshenko, Sputnik’s interlocutors said. Western observers admitted at the time that the series “catapulted this political unknown within spitting distance of the presidency,” and referred to Kolomoisky as his powerful backer.

As per Oleynyk, the Kolomoisky team did not initially plan to propel Zelensky to the presidency: the ex-mayor quoted the tycoon’s lawyer Andrey Bodgan as saying that they wanted to get to the Ukrainian parliament using the newly established party, Servant of the People, as a vehicle. However, they decided to play big having realized that Zelensky enjoyed public support.

By that time the Ukrainian oligarch had already been accused of embezzling over $5 billion from the nation’s largest lender, Privatbank. Later, in March 2021, the Biden administration slapped sanctions on the tycoon and his family. Ironically, instead of shielding his former patron, Zelensky soon distanced from him and reportedly stripped Kolomoisky of Ukrainian citizenship in July 2022 which could facilitate the latter’s extradition to the US.

“What did Kolomoisky count on? That through Zelensky he would solve his [US] sanctions problem and close his criminal case in the US. They do not understand that the system is formed differently [in the US]. As of yet, the question about Kolomoisky’s extradition has not been decided. Meanwhile, Kolomoisky has pretty much evidence and records implicating Zelensky,” Oleynyk said.

The view shows the houses in Donetsk destroyed as a result of shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces© Sputnik / Sergey Averin

Why Didn’t Zelensky Become a President of Peace?

Despite Zelensky pledging that he would end the war in the east of Ukraine, implement the Minsk Agreements, and restore law and order in the country, he never delivered on his promises.

“It was a game. [Ex-German Chancellor Angela] Merkel said, ‘I knew we wouldn’t do it [the Minsk Agreements]’. Poroshenko said: ‘We signed, but we knew we would not comply.’ They told Zelensky: ‘Stop it. Don’t you dare meet with Putin.’ Why was he forbidden from meeting with Putin? Could you meet? He could. He was ordered to be silent, rearm and prepare,” said Oleynyk.

According to the Ukrainian politician, Zelensky became part of a bigger geopolitical game which started almost three decades ago having won the presidential vote.

The Western colonial-minded elite has harbored plans to weaken Russia and its former satellites and lay its hands on their vast resources since the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the USSR, both Russia and Ukraine still stayed strong and intertwined. The only way to weaken them was to pit one brotherly nation against the other, argued Oleynyk.<

“When [Viktor] Yushchenko came in 2004, he was pro-Western, but he could not solve this problem. Why? There was a fairly strong political representation of the voters of the southeast [of Ukraine] by the Communist Party, Socialists, and the Party of Regions.”<

These popular parties did not allow the pro-Western government to sever ties with Russia and join NATO. Eventually, in 2010 Yushchenko lost the elections to Viktor Yanukovich, who commanded support in Eastern and Central Ukraine. At that time, the West understood that it couldn’t carry out its project within the framework of democracy, and it arranged a coup d’etat in Kiev in February 2014, continued Oleynyk.

After that, the Kiev junta resorted to persecution of dissenting politicians, journalists, and ordinary civilians using paramilitary neo-Nazi groups and ultra-nationalists. The horrific massacre in Odessa became the harbinger of Ukraine’s transformation into a quasi-nationalist state operated by the West.

Shortly before the tragedy, members of radical pro-Maidan nationalist groups, as well as “Ultras” football hooligans, arrived in Odessa and staged a march “For the Unity of Ukraine”, which ended in clashes, with thugs setting fire to the tents set up by anti-Maidan protesters on Kulikovo Pole Square. Anti-Maidan activists tried to defend themselves by retreating to the Trade Unions House. The radicals blocked the exits of the building. A fire soon broke out.

© Sputnik / Alexander Polishchuk

“Why did [the Kiev regime] bomb Lugansk in July 2014 from a warplane? In July, no one even took up arms [in Donbass]. Why did [Kiev] send armored vehicles there, when people stopped them with their hands, and women stood with icons. What for? To spill blood. The Americans knew that if blood was spilled in the Donbass, Russia would not be silent,” Oleynyk said.

As per the former Ukrainian MP, it was done to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine and, subsequently, undermine both.>

Under these conditions, Zelensky had a choice to either try to stop the Western-run war machine or become its cog. He chose the latter, continuing his predecessor’s practice of political persecution and terror against his rivals and has spilled much more blood than Poroshenko and his neo-Nazi thugs, Sputnik interlocutors said.
“I think he got scared,” Grushevsky said. “He really understood that the nationalist forces, which personify a fairly long-standing concept of ‘Banderism’ [after Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, a Nazi Germany collaborator during WW2 – Sputnik]. These forces will not allow him any other political line, except to follow their own plans. I think it was fear – fear for his future, for his life – that turned the president, who came to power with peaceful slogans, into, virtually, a puppet.”

On top of that, Western intelligence communities appear to have enough dirt on Zelensky to pull his strings, Oleynyk added. The CIA is well-aware of the Ukrainian president’s misdeeds and greed, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh remarked in his April 12 Substack piece: “One estimate by analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency put the embezzled funds at $400 million last year, at least.”

Is All About Politics or…?

“Now Zelensky has a moment of world triumph. He is touring the world, asking for regular portions of military assistance, loans, and money. And his passion is speaking at world forums. It doesn’t matter what it would be: the World Cup, the Eurovision Oscar, the Cannes Film Festival – it doesn’t matter. Give him the opportunity, he will be ready to speak at any small-town forum. He became a global superstar in his own eyes. That is, these are ambitions, this is such vanity, which is very cleverly warmed up. And, of course, he is now experiencing something akin to euphoria from his world super glory,” Grushevsky said. As per Kot, Zelensky has turned his dream of becoming a billionaire into reality: “Now Zelensky is trying to stay as long as possible in this post, and then just have time to run away with the money. Nothing else.” However, it’s unlikely that he would manage to flee and evade punishment, according to Sputnik’s interlocutors.

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While the Kiev Junta openly oppresses Christians, blatantly disregarding all laws and while the Zelensky regime’s US handlers stay silent and close their eyes to what’s happening, Ukrainian Orthodox believers choose to defend their faith. Reportedly, the parishioners once again prevented the state commission from entering the monastery.

“I do not expect anything good from him in the future, because he has already gone so far that he passed the point of no return,” echoed Oleynyk. “Only a fascist could cancel the May 9 Victory Day [in Ukraine]. Not just a traitor, but a fascist. Yes, he betrayed his grandfather too. We honor [his grandfather] Semen Zelensky, who was twice awarded the Order of the Red Star [in the Second World War]. And Zelensky betrayed him. He is trying to destroy Orthodoxy. This is something that only a few people would dare do. He won’t destroy it, it’s impossible. That is, there is no return for him. His fate will be very terrible because he brought too much sorrow for people to forgive him.”

*The Azov Battalion is an extremist organization banned in Russia.

May 27, 2023 | 2 Comments »

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2 Comments / 2 Comments

  1. This is a warning to all people and all countries about the nature of Fascism which is also related to the coming together of many factors which brings Fascism onto the stage of history in a new, and perhaps fundamentally different way, than the 1930s. To understand and to even begin to get our bearings it is necessary to turn decisively to study deeply the historical experiences of the 1930s. And to do that seriously the analyses of one historical figure stands like a beacon, a source of knowledge and a guide to action. The article contained here by Sputnik is very welcome because it puts forward an historical study of a certain individual, Zelensky, a man who was completely rootless in political education, and who very rapidly became adrift, and who becomes an outright Fascist, a very influential Fascist, because he did not have any other political answer. In this crisis of leadership which is extreme and severe there are millions of Zelenskys, so the stakes are high and getting higher as time passes, and the insoluble contradictions in Capitalism more and more makes life on earth impossible.

    Having paid tribute to the good aspects of the article by Sputnik about Zelensky it is also deficient because it separates the present from the past, and leaves out the valuable contributions of this subject of crisis of leadership leading to Fascism and the writings of Leon Trotsky, a continuum covering decades, especially in the 1920s to 1930s Britain, France, Germany, Spain, many studies of Hitler and also Stalin/Stalinism.

  2. In 2019, Zelensky had a landslide victory over the US puppet Poroshenko..
    During campaign he said:

    He told reporters he would “reboot” peace talks with the separatists fighting Ukrainian forces and volunteers in the east.

    “I think that we will have personnel changes. In any case we will continue in the direction of the Minsk [peace] talks and head towards concluding a ceasefire,” he said.

    But he didn’t pursue peace with Russia. He curried favour with the US.