In any crisis faced by humanity, people’s true colors are revealed. Leader or follower; fighter or deserter, brave, cruel, or cowardly － everything is laid bare in the eleventh hour. And right now, in the midst of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, it’s clearer than ever before who falls in each of these camps, who’s the villain of this story and who is the hero.
It should go without saying that Vlodimir Zelenskyy firmly falls into the latter category.
In the midst of a truly horrific, world-changing war, Zelensky has displayed amazing character and capability. Where others would have folded under the pressure and terror, he has risen to change our definition of what strong leadership looks like, responding to Russia’s savage and inhumane attack with steady determination and decisive action.
He’s been a real leader, doing what he believes is right and making hard decisions for the sake of his nation and its people. He doesn’t cater to critics or worry about popularity; he simply puts his head down and does what needs to be in order to keep Ukraine’s head above water for another day.
Regardless of all the danger, all the hardship and opposition, he refuses to back down and continues to － as late yet beloved Civil Rights leader John Lewis once commanded to us － make good trouble, and we could all stand to learn a few things from his example.
Honestly, I could go on and on about the man. But what it boils down to is that Zelenskyy is the epitome of what a patriot looks like. This is how a patriot behaves, performs, and interacts with both his people and the world stage.
American politicians? Take notes.
Now, none of this just “happened.” Zelenskyy didn’t just stumble his way into exemplary leadership. He got there by loving his people and country, by honoring the oath of his office and putting personal needs aside to best help those looking to him for guidance through these dark times.
In the end, it’s about selflessness. Everything Vlodomir Zelenskyy has done, and continues to do, is at great detriment to his health, his position, and his life. Yet he does it anyways to ensure Ukraine and those who call it home will prevail and see the end of this horrid war. It’s something beyond admirable. However, it seems that there’s something fighting against Zelenskyy at every turn.
Even beyond Russia, beyond the battlefield itself, he suffers from another enemy: the bureaucratic indecisiveness of those who (supposedly) stand for sovereignty and freedom.
Think US, Germany, France, English, leaders of the free world. They’re all making the issue of supporting Ukraine far more complicated than need be. Which is not to say that politics － geopolitics in particular － aren’t complex. They are. But there are times in history where humanity and commitment to its perseverance must be held above all else and that’s exactly where we need to be.
Because, right now, all the political red tape and fear to make waves is hindering Ukraine’s progress and performance. It’s stifling their ability to robustly repel Russian forces out of their country and end the onslaught permanently.
They’re fighting the second largest army in the world outmanned, outgunned, under equipped, and somehow, they’re giving the enemy a run for their money. But ending this thing is going to take more － more money, more weapons, more support － and that means allies have to step up.
That’s the rub, though, isn’t it?
Those very allies; the nations of NATO, the powerhouses of the political world; are still incredibly hesitant to offer up the full weight of their support.
Sure, a small fraction of this restrictive approach is rooted in the laws and treaties of our united allies. Although the vast majority of it also comes from worries, those like: what if we have nuclear war? What if people don’t like our choices? What if the critics say that we are wrong to step over the boundaries that were laid out by the UN and the EU?
But if the free world stands for just that － for freedom, for the right to not be invaded by radical nations, for democracy above all else － shouldn’t times of crisis like Ukraine’s destruction shake leaders free from the usual chains that bind them?
Maybe it’s just all hype. Maybe it’s just another case of saying things that sound good but never meaning them. But I have to believe that’s not true, or at minimum, doesn’t have to be, because we’ve seen it in action.
We’ve done better, been better than we are right now.
We did this fearlessly during World War II. USA leadership didn’t care about the perception of the people who believed we didn’t belong in the war. We saw a dictator trying to overthrow the free world, to dominate his way into global supremacy, and our response wasn’t to worry about his instability or what he might do. No way!
We were willing to do whatever it took to eradicate that, and we lived up to our ideals, our premises.
We stood for humanity above politics. Our leaders led. Just like Ukraine’s president is showing the world now. Surely, we can do it again. We just need to let his leadership serve as a reminder of what we ourselves are capable of.
So, with Zelensky, pay attention. This is what a real leader is － an inspiration for peace and stability.
This is what it takes to stop wars, what it takes to lead people and change the climate of division. And we can do it, too, if only we let the fuel of our ideals lead us beyond the fear and actually act. Because remember: in the words of Elie Wiesel, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”.