Less than 48 hours after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he knew he had made it to the top of the enemy’s hit list.
“Zelensky really galvanized the world in a way we haven’t seen in decades,” Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, said Wednesday of the wartime leader on NBC’s “Today” show. The “spirit of Ukraine,” “embodied by countless individuals inside and outside the country,” Felsenthal wrote, was also named Person of the Year.
That a leader with no previous military experience chose to remain in the country as war erupted speaks volumes about his character, Time reporter Simon Shuster wrote in a profile of Zelensky on Wednesday.
“Zelensky’s success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious,” Shuster wrote. “It spread through Ukraine’s political leadership in the first days of the invasion, as everyone realized the President had stuck around.”
There wasn’t much in Zelensky’s biography to predict his willingness to stand and fight. He had never served in the military or shown much interest in its affairs. He had only been President since April 2019. His professional instincts derived from a lifetime as an actor on the stage, a specialist in improv comedy, and a producer in the movie business.
The former comedian, television personality and actor, who once played Ukraine’s president on a TV show, has drawn widespread praise from Ukrainians and world leaders as he steers Kyiv through one of the deadlier conflicts in the last 200 years. Zelensky graduated from Kyiv National Economic University in 2000 with a law degree. He was elected as Ukraine’s leader in 2019.
Time has chosen a Person of the Year since 1927. The magazine grants the title, which isn’t necessarily an award, to the person or group it deems the most influential in the past 12 months. The distinction was originally called Man of the Year.
Time’s other finalists included Musk, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the Supreme Court, outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, protesters in Iran, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and gun-control advocates.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.
Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.