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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky named Time's Person of the Year

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, shown here visiting wounded soldiers in the hospital in Kharkiv, has been named Time's Person of the Year. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, shown here visiting wounded soldiers in the hospital in Kharkiv, has been named Time's Person of the Year. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Presidential Press Office | License Photo

Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the "Spirit of Ukraine" have been named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

"This year's choice was the most clear-cut in memory. 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," Time wrote.

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Zelensky's journey from a comedian portraying a fictional Ukrainian president on the popular TV show Servant of the People, to peace candidate running in a very real election, to wartime president, has captivated the world.

"From his first 40-second Instagram post on Feb. 25 -- showing that his Cabinet and civil society were intact and in place -- to daily speeches delivered remotely to the likes of Houses of Parliament, the World Bank, and the Grammy Awards, Ukraine's president was everywhere," Time wrote in praise of Zelensky's international outreach.

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"His information offensive shifted the geopolitical weather system, setting off a wave of action that swept the globe."

Zelensky's landslide victory against Petro Poroshenko in 2019 was historic, marking a shift away from the traditional political camps and a mass rejection of the status quo in Ukraine, a political climate that for many was marred by corruption and dominance of the old guard.

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Zelensky also shattered barriers by becoming the first Jewish president of a nation still haunted by "Memory Wars" about their role in the Second World War, where Ukrainians fought on both sides.

Like millions of Ukrainians, Zelensky's grandfather was a soldier fighting against the Nazis in the Soviet military. The president skillfully showcased his family's experience in a video message marking the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on May 9.

"We won then and we will win now," he said.

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Navigating the historical minefield of 20th-century conflicts where millions of Ukrainians died under policies enacted by Nazis and Soviets alike has proven to be one of Zelensky's greatest strengths.

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Zelensky became a household name in the United States after former President Donald Trump pressured him to open an investigation into his 2020 presidential opponent Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, in exchange for military aid, during a phone call in July 2019. Trump was impeached over the call but was ultimately acquitted during the subsequent trial.

Despite his current status as a global leader and popular wartime president, Zelensky is no stranger to controversy, hostility and turmoil at home. In 2020, a gunman took 13 hostages, demanding the president publicly recommend a movie about animal rights in exchange for their freedom. Zelensky acquiesced to the gunman's demands.

"Everybody watch the 2005 film Earthlings," he said in a brief statement on Facebook. The hostages were subsequently released without incident.

Prior to Russia's full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, Zelensky faced plummeting poll numbers, but his refusal to leave Kyiv during the terrifying first weeks of the war galvanized public opinion.

Time also acknowledged "the spirit of Ukraine," in the contributions of Ukrainian citizens and foreign humanitarian volunteers alike.

"The spirit of Ukraine was embodied by countless individuals inside and outside the country. Many fought behind the scenes, like Ievgen Klopotenko, one of Ukraine's most famous chefs, known for his borsch, who provided over a thousand free meals a day to refugees in Lviv in the first weeks after the invasion," the profile says.

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The magazine also recognized medical professionals, from Ukraine and abroad, who showed courage during the war.

"Dr. David Nott, a Welsh surgeon, has traveled multiple times to Ukraine to train local doctors in how to treat war wounds. Julia Payevska, a medic, treated wounded civilians, day and night, in besieged Mariupol, as well as a wounded enemy solider," according to the magazine.

Zelensky's unusual journey has placed him at the very center of geopolitics and Time's choice reflects the reality of the historical events defining a leader.

"The impact of this story on 2022 is the essence of what Person of the Year was designed to capture, the idea that fateful events on the global stage are shaped -- for better and worse -- by the talents, priorities, fears and foibles of individual human beings."

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