In February 2022 Russian shells rained down on Kyiv as tanks crossed the border into Ukraine. At the time American forces prepared to evacuate President Volodymyr Zelensky for fear of his life. But Zelensky refused to abandon his country, saying ‘I need ammunition, not a ride’ and quickly became the national symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
But how did Zelensky, once an actor who played the president on television, come to be one of the most significant wartime leaders of the twenty-first century? In December 2022 Olga Onuch and Henry Hale came to Intelligence Squared to discuss Zelensky’s life and career. From his Jewish upbringing as a native Russian speaker to his decision to go into politics as an anti-corruption and anti-establishment candidate, they explored how Ukraine’s president has come to embody the hopes and frustrations of the country’s first ‘independence generation’.