Volodymyr Zelensky: Ukrainian Jew entangled in Trump’s impeachment scandal

ublished: SEPTEMBER 28, 2019

Besides Israel, Ukraine is the only country that has a Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky – and until the end of August, it also had a Jewish prime minister, Volodomyr Groysman. Zelensky has served since May, and has already proved to be both popular and powerful, while at the same time being colorful and controversial.

Zelensky has been in the news recently at the center of a scandal that could lead to the impeachment of US President Donald Trump. According to news reports, Trump – in a July 25 phone call – asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son’s ties to an allegedly corrupt Ukrainian natural gas company. The report prompted a call by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for an impeachment inquiry of Trump.

A former comedian as well as an actor, director and screenwriter, Zelensky has a degree in law, but rather than following a legal career decided to establish Kvartal 95, a company that produces films and TV shows.

Under his leadership, the company created a satirical television series titled “Servant of the People,” in which Zelensky played the role of Ukraine’s president, Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko. It became a huge hit among Ukraine’s population of 45 million, and led to Zelensky challenging then-president Petro Poroshenko in the 2019 election.

In his reelection campaign, Poroshenko accused Zelensky of being a puppet of Jewish billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who operates a business empire in Ukraine and has a home in Israel. Kolomoyskyi ran Zelensky’s comedy shows on his TV station and despised Poroshenko for nationalizing his bank, PrivatBank. A month after taking office, Zelensky appointed Andriy Bogdan, Kolomoysyi’s personal lawyer, as his chief of staff.

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Since Zelensky took office, antisemitic incidents in Ukraine have apparently increased and the far-right seems to have strengthened, together with a worrying rehabilitation of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists such as Stepan Bandera. The number of Jews is estimated to be under 150,000, with at least two-thirds living in the capital, Kiev, making it remarkable that the country had until recently both a Jewish president and prime minister.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Zelensky said he went into politics to restore trust in politicians, “to bring professional, decent people to power” and “to change the mood and timbre of the political establishment as much as possible.”

He took office five years after the Ukrainian revolution, in which Ukrainians rioted on the streets of Kiev and ousted the pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych. This triggered a Russian military intervention in which Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and backed separatists in a war in the eastern Donbas region, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 13,000 people.

Zelensky swept to victory in the first round of elections on March 31 and the run-off election on April 21, and was inaugurated as president on May 20. In his inaugural speech, he dissolved the existing parliament and called early elections in July.

His classic address is worth reading. “Dear Ukrainians!” he began. “After my election win, my six-year-old son said: ‘Dad, I saw on TV that Zelensky is now the president! Does that mean I’m the president too?’ Back then, it sounded like a childish joke. But I came to realize that it was actually the truth. Because each and every one of us is the president. Not just the 73% who voted for me, but the entire 100% of Ukrainians. This is not my victory, it’s our shared victory.”

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