Commentary

Zelensky: From 'Servant of the People' To Man Of Destiny

A high school history teacher comes out of nowhere to become president of Ukraine after a video goes viral on YouTube that showed him ranting profanely about the government and what he would do if he were in charge.

This is the premise of “Servant of the People,” the Ukrainian drama/comedy starring Volodymyr Zelensky, who created and produced it.

Zelensky, 44, was not a high school teacher, but his rise to the Ukrainian presidency was just as unlikely as the story of Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, the teacher he played on the show. (The character’s last name is sometimes spelled with a “G,” but it is spelled with an “H” in an English subtitle on the show when he is first introduced.)

The series aired on Ukrainian television for three seasons from October 2015 to March 28, 2019. 

Less than a month later, on April 21, this political outsider and TV star, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, was elected president with an estimated 73% of the vote.

“Servant of the People” is available now to watch on Netflix. The streaming service restored it to its content lineup last week after an absence of about a month. The show was previously available until last month when the rights expired.

In the show, the teacher Holoborodko is taken completely by surprise by his sudden election since he wasn’t even running. Indeed, his sudden popularity stemmed entirely from the video that swept Ukraine just a day before the election.

Unlike Zelensky, who was an actual candidate, Holoborodko would never ever have considered himself a candidate in a million years.

He only found out about the video when his students told him that one of them had surreptitiously filmed his rant through a classroom window and then posted it on YouTube.

And in the blink of any eye some 8 million Ukrainians had seen it. His students even said their parents had seen it and every one of them said they would vote for him on election day.

The following day, in Episode One, the befuddled schoolteacher learns from a group of officials who suddenly show up at his home that he is now president.

The rest of the episode shows him being groomed for the job -- picking out suits and ties, and posing for official photos.

He is even taken to a tony store and offered his choice of luxury watches -- a Patek Phillipe or a Vacheron Constantin -- as an aide enthusiastically informs him that these are the brands Vladimir Putin wears.

The first episode makes it clear that this history teacher’s ascendance to the presidency will reverberate throughout Ukrainian society.

It is also clear that he will face resistance from a group of Ukrainian oligarchs who are used to having their own way and paying handsomely for it.

Like Zelensky, Holoborodko is a man of the people and, according to the show’s title, their servant too.

Zelensky -- who once spent five years touring Russia and other nearby countries with a comedy troupe -- has earned respect around the world for his bravery, defiance and oratorical eloquence.

His evolution from entertainment content creator to world leader has revealed him to be a formidable figure who just might be the most interesting man in the world right now.

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