I’m not the type who runs after books of quotations in bookstores. But I have two exceptions to that rule: Winston Churchill and Volodymyr Zelensky. Because both men decided to face the adverse winds of history at a most crucial time.
Bestselling author Liza Rogak, assisted by translator Daisy Gibbons, opens a window into the Ukrainian President’s worldview in a new book Volodymyr Zelensky in His Own Words (Pegasus Books). “You’ve never seen someone like me”, declared the statesman in April 2019. Coupled with his staunch determination to hold his ground in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin, this might be one of the reasons why he is so popular. “I don’t trust anyone at all” he said a few months later. Who could blame him, when you imagine allies hedging their bets at the beginning of the war to see if he stood a chance or not.
In the current context of the war launched by Moscow last February, two quotes resonated particularly. To The Economist, he said last March that “The invaders do not even mourn their own casualties. This is something I do not understand. And Russia loses 15,000 of its soldiers in a month! [Putin] is throwing Russian soldiers like logs into a train’s furnace.” Flashback to his inaugural address, in May 2019, when he affirmed that “There can be no strong army in a place where the authorities do not respect the people who every day sacrifice their lives for the country.” Volodymyr Zelensky has never been an avowed militarist. He dodged military service and I doubt he pores over military history books at night. But he will remain in the annals of leadership for decades and maybe longer.
We live in an age where respect for politics and politicians is declining. The causes of that will continue to occupy political scientists for years to come. The reason why Volodymyr Zelensky’s words resonate so much has something to do along the lines of the words of a great soldier, General George S. Patton, who famously advised: “Always do everything you ask of those you command”. How many Presidents and Prime Ministers would choose to work surrounded by sandbags and live with the almost immediate scenario of being abducted or killed at any moment? If memory serves, only Winston Churchill – him again – was brave or crazy enough – to fearlessly stand on the roof of his Whitehall’s London bunker watching German bombs raining on the City during the blitz. Not many leaders are cut from that cloth, but Zelensky is among them.
I know it might sound naïve or presumptuous to many because no politician or statesman is pure and perfect, but I like to think that Volodymyr Zelensky’s recipe has everything to do with sincerity. A trait notably underlined by his total indifference to fashion. His wife chooses his clothes, and he doesn’t want to know the brands he wears, a situation for which he must care much less about since he adorns military-style khaki clothes since the beginning of the war. Or his declared fondness for shawarma as a favorite meal. I can relate to this man, and I can easily imagine him as a neighbor too busy to pick up the leaves in his yard in the Fall Season. My guess is you will also find lots of material to which you can relate too on a personal basis. Volodymyr Zelensky’s popularity is not related to stardom, but a refined capacity to look and to be like us, while we try to catch the breath of our daily lives. With him, normalcy joins the ranks of bravery.
I could elaborate about several quotes for many paragraphs because I truly enjoyed this book. But I don’t want to steal too many punches. And I’d really like for the publisher not to be upset with me for giving away too much content. But do not hesitate to grab a copy of this book. Your daily commute or a warm cup of tea will only be more enjoyable.
But before I let you run at the bookstore – because I honestly think you should – let me just mention that my Canadian pride was extremely flattered while devouring this book in one sitting. And I say this without any partisan design. In July 2010, the now iconic President of Ukraine credited our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, for his decision to enter politics… and ambling into history.
Liza Rogak and Daisy Gibbons, Volodymyr Zelensky in His Own Words, New York, Pegasus Books, 2022, 336 pages.
I would like to express all my gratitude to Harmeen Pannu of Simon & Schuster Canada for permitting me to discover and devour this book.