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When Volodymyr Zelenskyy ran for the Ukrainian presidency in 2019, no one from Ukraine’s political establishment took him seriously. He had a law degree and was a household name, but he had no political experience.

In fact, the closest that Zelenskyy got to politics before his presidential campaign was playing the head of state in a satirical sitcom. That’s because he’s a comedic actor—a staple of Ukrainian and Russian-language rom-coms. He even won Ukraine’s version of Dancing with the Stars in 2006.

What does a comedian know about running a country, after all?

Apparently, Zelenskyy knew enough to convince 73% of Ukraine’s voters to elect him president. He struggled early in his term, however, with his controversial decisions disillusioning many Ukrainians.

But when Russia invaded the country on February 24, 2022, Zelenskyy showed a side of himself that his compatriots hadn’t seen before—that their president is a leader of strong character.

How did Volodymyr Zelenskyy display character-based leadership in the face of this enormous crisis? Here are five examples.

1. He showed courage.

A leader of strong character shows courage when it matters the most.

As Russian troops made their way to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, the US offered to evacuate Zelenskyy for his safety. His response: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

He’s aware that his life is in danger, yet he refused to be president in exile. He knows that staying in Kyiv puts him in a better position to serve his country.

2. He is authentic.

A leader of strong character is willing to show that they, too, are human.

Zelenskyy may have shown courage as expected of a wartime president. But this doesn’t mean he’s unbothered by what’s going on. His Instagram videos clearly show him as worried and exhausted. He has dark circles under his eyes, and his stubble is days old. He also switched from his usual presidential suits to military fatigues.

He shows that, just like his compatriots, he feels the physical and mental toll of the conflict with Russia. He also expresses that he doesn’t see glory in war.

3. He knows how to reach people.

A leader of strong character is an effective communicator.

Observers have seen Zelenskyy use social media to great effect. He frequently posts on Instagram and Twitter to show the world what’s going on in Ukraine amid the invasion. Aside from posting regularly, he uses language that will resonate with his audience.

In his videos, his speeches are full of gravity and passion, but he speaks calmly, plainly, and doesn’t use rhetorical language. His soundbites are quotable and tweetable, but they aren’t empty of meaning.

4. He is on the ground.

A leader of strong character works at the frontlines and isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

During the first few days of the invasion, Zelenskyy posted videos of himself running around the streets of Kyiv. He shot the videos as selfies from his phone.

Through his videos, Zelenskyy meant to show the actual situation in Kyiv from the ground. He also wanted people to see that he’s not always hunkered down in his bunker and he knows firsthand what’s really going on.

5. He inspires.

A leader of strong character inspires others to action.

Zelenskyy has shown Ukrainians and the whole world that he has the grit to help his country survive the Russian aggression. He may have stumbled early in his term, but he’s making up for it now. His show of courage, his calm demeanor, and his presence in Kyiv despite the risks have inspired Ukrainians to resist.

The Ukrainians aren’t the only ones inspired by Zelenskyy. Governments around the world have imposed various sanctions on Russia. Multinational corporations in different sectors, from technology to energy to fashion, have either pulled out of or suspended their Russian operations. Elon Musk activated SpaceX’s satellite internet service in Ukraine. The hacktivist collective Anonymous launched cyberwarfare in Russia as well.


Motivational speaker and former politician Les Brown once said, “Our ability to handle life’s challenges is a measure of our strength of character.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine is only a few days old, and no one knows for sure how it will turn out. But through Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the conflict has given the world a true example of a leader of strong character.