“It was the Ukrainians who forced Volodymyr Zelensky to become a hero”

In December, his name was still unknown to the general public. Within a few months, Volodymyr Zelensky became a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invader. A hero to his countrymen, but also in the eyes of a large part of Europeans. Regis Ginty and Stefan Siohan, brilliant experts from the Ukrainian president, his country and the Soviet world, vowed to write the autobiography Volodymyr Zelensky – Inside the Mind of a Heroin the midst of the war between Kyiv and Moscow.

Regis Ginty (left) and Stefan Siohan (right) authors of Volodymyr Zelensky’s book – In the Head of a Hero. – Oliver Joszak / 20 minutes

Volodymyr Zelensky, a child of a popular district of Ukraine member of the USSR, first became known as an actor of a popular television series, comic strip or producer, a pacifist president and then a veteran warlord. A look back with freelance authors and journalists on the “Zelensky Phenomenon,” a quadra that has become a symbol of contemporary generation and heroism.

How was this book written?

Regis Gent: Our publisher gave us a month to write it! We both specialize in the Soviet world. I know Ukraine well, I live in Georgia and Stefan in Kyiv. We didn’t have to do any research, we’ve amassed thirty years of experience in this field. We did the work remotely, I wrote the skeleton during the day and put the pulpit and color on it in the evening.

Stephen Siuhan: I’ve had the urge to immerse myself in the Zelensky phenomenon for a while. I am one of the first Western journalists to meet him when he was a presidential candidate. I have collected a lot of material in three years: interviews, meetings, articles and also unpublished things. I just didn’t expect to write his autobiography in the midst of conflict.

Were there restrictions on writing this biography during the war?

Regis Gent: It wasn’t necessary to fall into emotion, but to write a book that could continue over time. Show the positive and wonderful hero in entering the war, clarifying his shortcomings and what distinguishes the character.

Stephen Siuhan: It’s hard to sit down and say to yourself, “This is the time to paint your picture,” when you don’t know the end of the story and how long it will take.

If you had to mention Zelensky’s genius stroke…

Stephen Siuhan: I think it happened when, two days after the war, he took to the streets with his comrades, in the style of the Beatles, to photograph himself and say: “We are all here.” At that time, he had just escaped an assassination attempt orchestrated by a Russian commando. It’s a way of saying to Vladimir Putin “fuck you,” but it’s also a masterful political punch. This is the message that will sound like a revolution. Before that, Ukrainians had real doubts about how their president would act in the event of a military conflict.

What phrase of Volodymyr Zelensky surprised you the most?

Regis Gent: That was when he replied to the Americans who offered to evacuate him from Ukraine to put him in safety: “I need ammunition, not a taxi.” There he determines his relations with Westerners. We could be Greater Germany, or the United States, or a country that provides great support, and Zelensky can still tell the truth in a straightforward manner. It’s cheek fitting, without being offensive.

Stephen Siuhan: Zelensky is able to swing expressions that mean nothing. His campaign is full of them. But in 2019, during his introductory speech as president, he said “every one of us is a boss.” He tells people that he is no higher than them, and this constitutes an exercise in governance in a country like Ukraine which is completely anti-authoritarian, completely unlike the Russian political culture.

Volodymyr Zelensky is the king of the picture?

Stephen Siuhan: I call him “the head of the screen” because he made it the foundation of his career. Television as an actor and producer. His production company is the largest audiovisual content company in the former Soviet Union, outside of Russia. His team knows exactly how to frame images and how the use of such a camera or lens will affect the emotions of onlookers. He is at the crossroads of all contemporary media: television, social networks, soap operas, the importance of which he understands so well. In it, he has a crazy novelty, because he masters the symbols of the image better than any other European chef.

How did Volodymyr Zelensky turn from a president not taken seriously into a hero?

Stephen Siuhan: In 2019, when he entered the political arena, Volodymyr Zelensky did not charm foreign journalists at all. They were intrigued and very suspicious, just because he wasn’t feeling well. From my first two hour interview with him, we can throw away 80% of the content, absolutely meaningless. We had a guy who had no political backbone, and he was in touch. Specialists in the region watched him with caution, while the foreign press locked him in an oversimplified box of “Ukrainian kolochi”. Today, he is adored by the international press who does not know much about Ukraine. Journalists in the area have a little more distance, because they know small concessions and affairs related to his person.

Regis Gent: Perhaps the question is less “Why did he become a hero with us?” From “Why do Europeans need a hero?” Westerners understood that behind this conflict the question of the world’s democratic future is at stake. We have a feeling that war has returned to Europe and that someone must stand up to it.

Is Volodymyr Zelensky a symbol of a turning point in Ukraine?

Stephen Siuhan: Volodymyr Zelensky carries with him the dramaturgy and problematic of this conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which is not an opposition between Russian-speakers and Ukrainian-speakers, people from the East and people from the West. There is a real generational divide in Ukraine between those who knew the Soviet Empire and those who did not. Volodymyr Zelensky’s character tells this story. He was 13 when the Soviet Union fell, so he didn’t know her. It is part of this generation that the Soviet Union means nothing and Vladimir Putin does not want to stand out.

Volodymyr Zelensky mastered the symbols of the image better than any other European chef. »

Zelensky, it’s that news Middle class Urban: young parents, full of energy and status, less pessimistic than those who experienced the end of the Soviet Union and who had a real building project for their country. Zelensky in their image and took them in his wake to power. They understood that if Russia invaded Ukraine, they would lose everything. It’s a time war, with Russia on the one hand wanting to stop it and the Ukrainians on the other wanting to speed it up.

What is this recipe that made Volodymyr Zelensky a hero?

Regis Gent: He has legitimacy through the ballot box, embodies the project of the people, practices politics from below, and follows the opinion of the population. The courage he showed is the courage shown by the millions of Ukrainians who are fighting.

Stephen Siuhan: He is a hero because Ukraine is made up of a large number of heroes. It is a country whose people are willing to sacrifice their personal comfort for an idea, and whose citizens are ready to sacrifice their lives. Volodymyr Zelensky realized this. He had no choice but to rise above it. It was the Ukrainians who forced him to become a hero.

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