The Dangers of Idolizing Zelensky

by Therese Askarbek

Opinion

March 31, 2022

The most recent invasion and attack of Ukraine in February have sparked protests around the world against the war waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin. As cities such as Mariupol are relentlessly bombed and invaded by Russian tanks, the escalating war has been on the minds of many in the US. Concerns over rising gas prices, relatives and friends living in Ukraine, and the consequences of Russia’s power grab are just a few of many that have been plaguing the country and news outlets since the war officially broke out. Aside from the muddle of anxiety and concern, liberals and conservatives alike have begun idolizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Memes of him in uniform with other soldiers in the trenches or sitting around a table compared to Putin sitting alone have been trending online as an alleged testament of his groundedness and courageousness. Some, on social media platforms such as TikTok, have gone as far as making fan-edited videos of him, the comments filled with remarks on his physical attractiveness and their infatuation with him. There are several things wrong with this type of rhetoric. 

When looking at the state of post-Soviet countries, a major commonality between them is a near universal issue of corruption. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus has been run by a dictatorship under Alexander Lukashenko, who is known for jailing his opponents and censoring the press.1 Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has kept Turkmenistan firmly under his control, with no one allowed to dissent or contradict his policies. In Kazakhstan, citizens have become increasingly discontented with their reduced rights and the wealth gap, with the elite clutching tightly to most of the country’s wealth. Ukraine is no exception to the corruption plaguing these countries since 1991. Under the oligarchic regime in which Zelensky is president, Ukrainian officials and parliament members have been plundering money from the state budget. They were reported to have stolen a fifth of the country’s output per year from 2010 to 2014.2 Though many were hopeful that, if voted into the presidential office, Zelensky would put an end to the corrupt government practices, he proved to be corrupt himself when the Pandora papers were leaked. These papers suggested that Zelensky had a stake in an offshore company that he had transferred to a friend just weeks before being elected.3 He appointed loyalists and his friends to high posts in the government and was backed by a billionaire who owned the network Zelensky worked on as an actor for the hit show “Servant of the People.”4 His promise to tackle corruption was left unfulfilled, with the same issues still prevalent in the country as before. 

Though he has proven to be steadfast, brave, and unwavering in the face of an onslaught of Russian attacks, he is not exempt from criticism. By solely focusing our attention on these qualities he has exemplified, we become dangerously close to complacency, not only with politicians abroad, but in the US as well. As we have seen with Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and “the Squad,” idolizing any politician causes us to lose our objectivity and to find ourselves unable to hold our “favorite” politicians accountable. 

In this particular instance, the ramifications of indulging in passionate displays of affection for Zelensky or treating him like an infallible hero are also profoundly insensitive to the Ukranians suffering from the war. Recently, the New York Post reported that US “fans” were begging for Jeremy Renner to portray Zelensky in a future biopic—as Ukranians were being bombed in their homes.5 In idolizing him, a real, traumatic war is effectively sensationalized. It is turned into trivial fodder for people to entertain themselves with. Whatever one may think of Zelensky, we need to apply mindful, critical analysis to politicians and their policies in order to consciously work our way through the chaos that is today’s current events. 


1 Justin Burke, “Post-Soviet World: what you need to know about the 15 states,” The Guardian, June 9, 2014,
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/09/-sp-profiles-post-soviet-states.

2 Oliver Bullough, “Welcome to Ukraine, the most corrupt nation in Europe,” The Guardian, February 6, 2015,
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/feb/04/welcome-to-the-most-corrupt-nation-in-europe-ukraine.

3 Luke Harding, “Revealed: ‘anti-oligarch’ Ukrainian President’s offshore connections,” The Guardian, October 3, 2021,
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/oct/03/revealed-anti-oligarch-ukrainian-president-offshore-connections-volodymyr-zelenskiy.

4 Anna Myroniuk, “Opinion: I did not vote for Ukraine’s president. His courage has changed my mind and inspired millions,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2022,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/27/ukraine-russia-zelensky-president-changed-my-mind-inspired-millions/.

5 Andrew Court, “Fans cast Jeremy Renner as Zelensky in fantasy Ukraine invasion film: Too soon?,” The New York Post, February 28, 2022,
https://nypost.com/2022/02/28/fans-beg-jeremy-renner-to-play-president-zelensky-in-biopic/.

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