John Dickerson on Zelensky’s leadership, and on making courage contagious


Before Volodymyr Zelensky became president of Ukraine, he played one on TV. Since the Russian invasion, Zelensky has become a president whom actors across the world would rush to portray.

Against Russian claims he’d fled his country, Zelensky was defiant: 

“We are all here, defending our Independence, our state! It will continue to be so. Glory to our defenders! Glory to Ukraine!”

Targeted for assassination, he refused a U.S. offer of escape. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said.

“This may be the last time you see me,” he told the leaders of the European Union.

Demonstrators Protest The Russian Invasion Of Ukraine In New York
“Fight like Zel”: A demonstrator outside the United Nations holds newspaper depicting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Feb. 27, 2022. 

Ismail Ferdous/Bloomberg via Getty Images

His appeal for support was so moving, they increased their sanctions on Russia significantly. 

His commitment to a nation that has been free for just 30 years refreshed the resolution of democracies that as much older.

It is a hero story. But it wouldn’t have a very long run without an audience. Leaders are made by followers who get a say in what they are being led to. And Ukrainians echoed the certain trumpet. 

Ukrainians stood before tanks. 

Ukrainians mobbed Russian vehicles. 

Ukrainians returned to their country to take up arms. 

We are watching what Viktor Frankl identified the last time evil burned Europe. A Nazi concentration camp survivor, he wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s own way.” 

What Vladimir Putin has tried to snuff out, Zelensky has instead illuminated on the world stage.

Ukrainians are not squatters on some stray Soviet scrap. They are human. And we are watching them, and their leader, make the basic choice that defines what it means to be human.

Story produced by Young Kim. Editor: Carol Ross. 

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