Time Names Volodymyr Zelensky Person of the Year: ‘The Most Clear-Cut Choice in Memory’

Time magazine announced on Wednesday that it had chosen Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zel
TIME Magazine

Time magazine announced Wednesday it had chosen Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky its person of the year for 2022, calling it an obvious choice in light of the head of state’s ubiquity and his ability to “galvanize the world” around his cause.

The “spirit of Ukraine,” a nebulous concept that apparently includes Spanish celebrity chef José Andrés, also earned recognition as a 2022 “person of the year.”

Ukraine has been facing a Russian invasion, for most of its history fueled by Russian-backed proxies in the eastern Donbass region, since 2014, when Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced his country would colonize Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Zelensky inherited that war when he was elected as the “pro-Russian” choice in 2019 against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky appeared immediately distrusting of the negotiation formula that he inherited from Zelensky, most prominently following a fateful meeting with Putin himself, chaperoned by the leaders of France and Germany, that amounted to nothing. Prior to the recent wave of invasion, Zelensky demanded a new negotiation format with “serious” countries involved instead of France and Germany.

In February, after years of minimal progress for Russia on the Donbass front, Putin announced a “special operation” to oust Zelensky, labeling the Ukrainian president and his administration an illegitimate “Nazi” regime. Putin’s regime contended that, since pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych had been ousted in a popular revolt in 2014, he, not Zelensky, was the true democratic leader of the country. Yanukovych currently lives in Russia; Zelensky, then a sitcom and sketch comedian, played no notable role in the events that ousted Yanukovych.

Zelensky responded to the new operation with outrage, noting that the “Nazi” label was especially offensive given that he is Jewish and his ancestors fought in the Soviet military against the Nazis in the Second World War. The president then chose to stay in Kyiv and organize a full-scale national military mobilization, handing out thousands of guns to civilians and reportedly refusing transport out of the country.

Zelensky has also launched an incessant media campaign that has made him one of the world’s most recognizable faces.

“This year’s choice was the most clear-cut in memory,” Time acknowledged in its explanation of the process that led to choosing Zelensky. “Whether the battle for Ukraine fills one with hope or with fear, Volodymyr Zelensky galvanized the world in a way we haven’t seen in decades.”

“In the weeks after Russian bombs began falling on Feb. 24, his decision not to flee Kyiv but to stay and rally support was fateful,” the magazine observed, applauding Zelensky’s “meticulous image-building and repetition in his message. He was blunt, sometimes sarcastic, and always directly to the point: we must save Ukraine to save democracy.”

Time‘s extended profile of Zelensky features an inside look into his recent visit to Kherson, a southern city that Putin “annexed” alongside three other regions in September: the two Donbass regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. Two months later, the Ukrainian military announced that it had liberated Kherson city and Zelensky traveled there to raise the Ukrainian flag himself.

Simon Shuster, who wrote the profile, notes that the Ukrainian government allowed him to embed with Zelensky for nine months prior to the publication of the article.

The president claimed that his staff was “100% against” his visit and admitted it was “a bit reckless.” Time noted that Zelensky had obvious “information war” reasons to show his face in Kherson, but Zelensky claimed that he needed to as an attempt to keep the spirits of the city’s people high.

“They are going to fall into a depression now, and it will be very hard,” Zelensky said. “As I see it, it’s my duty to go there and show them that Ukraine has returned, that it supports them. Maybe it will give them enough of a boost to last a few more days. But I’m not sure. I don’t lull myself with such illusions.”

Shuster’s conclusion following nine months with Zelensky – and multiple meetings with the president throughout his political career – is that 2022 resulted in a dramatic “transformation” for the president.

“Aides who once saw him as a lightweight now praise his toughness. Slights that might once have upset him now elicit no more than a shrug,” Shuster wrote. “Some of his allies miss the old Zelensky, the practical joker with the boyish smile. But they realize he needs to be different now, much harder and deaf to distractions, or else his country might not survive.”

The profile is minimally critical of Zelensky, omitting the glamorous Vogue photo shoot gaffe, Zelensky outraging the Israeli Knesset by comparing the Russian invasion to the Holocaust, and Zelensky’s failure to galvanize nearly any support in Africa or Latin America. Shuster allows that Zelensky’s campaign of ensuring that his face is on televisions and magazines everywhere at all times had “at times grown tedious” for Ukrainians themselves, however, stating that his administration expressed some concern that Ukrainians had “started tuning out.”

Shuster also notes that some observers have expressed concern that Zelensky has “authoritarian tendencies, stripping the power of the oligarchs and seeking to imprison political opponents whom he considers treasonous,” but does not dwell on the matter.
In its profile of the “spirit of Ukraine,” Time applauds the Ukrainian people alongside foreign individuals who have attached themselves to the war effort.

“Chef José Andrés swung his humanitarian enterprise into a war zone that had been one of the breadbaskets of the world,” the magazine observed, referencing the Spanish chef famous for inserting himself into political causes. Also featured in the profile is a British doctor, David Nott, who traveled to Ukraine to aid the government against Russia.

“The fight had been lonelier eight years earlier, when Russia took Crimea and sections of eastern Ukraine,” Time acknowledged.

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