When Volodymyr Zelenskyy was growing up in southeastern Ukraine, his Jewish family spoke Russian and his father once forbade the younger Zelenskyy from going abroad to study in Israel. Instead, Zelenskyy studied law at home. Upon graduation, he found a new home in movie acting and comedy — rocketing in the 2010s to become one of Ukraine’s top entertainers with the TV series “Servant of the People."
In it, he portrayed a lovable high school teacher fed up with corrupt politicians who accidentally becomes president.
Fast forward just a few years, and Zelenskyy is the president of Ukraine for real — and as Russian troops bear down on his country and Moscow's rockets shatter the peace of beautiful, ancient Kyiv, as much of the world looks on in horror, his new role is playing an unlikely hero for the 21st century.
With courage, good humor and grace under fire that has rallied his people and impressed his Western counterparts, the compact, dark-haired, 44-year-old former actor has refused to leave Kyiv even though he says he has a target on his back from the Russian invaders.