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Ukraine Still Standing!
In a world so divided can the Ukraine bring us back together again?
Up until two weeks ago the world was more divided than ever. Left of politics versus the right, nationalism versus globalisation, climate activists versus big oil and my daughter versus cleaning her room. Even McDonald’s versus Starbucks in the war for the world’s most vomit-inducing coffee. Why can’t everyone make coffee like the Italians?
And then along came a slightly short, almost millennial man dressed in camouflage shouting at the rest of the world and quicker than a Russian MiG we all appear to be coming together again. Forget Greta, this man could be the real deal.
Even though none of us can pronounce his name (which proves that personal branding isn’t everything), and trying to spell it is more culture war red alert than grabbing an Uber to Kyiv, or is it Kiev(??). It looks like city branding, on the other hand, is not quite dead.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, otherwise known as Zelensky with one ‘y’, or Vladimir - the Ukrainian way, seems to have it all. The extra ‘Y’ is presumably a clever name based meme to counter Russia’s latest round of mystical lettering - they particularly like ‘Z’ right now for ‘shiz we’re at war’. Perhaps Zelensky wants to double down on ‘y’ for ‘at least Youtube isn’t shut down here!’
He certainly has Google down. If you put the word ‘President’ in the search engine these days he appears near the top of the list. Bouncing around Biden and Trump!!! Search ‘president zelensky’ and you get 354,000,000 hits which is almost as many as Abba but hopefully less than the number of hits Russia has out on him or missiles they’ve sent his country’s way.
Volod (nah, lets stick with Zelensky) instantly undermines any corporate leader with his women-in-leadership count. All while he scares the bejesus out of politicians because he actually ‘gets stuff done'. The beard slowly appearing is no hipster affectation. He is living proof that millennials time has come. Zelensky puts the U and I in unite - obviously unless you’re an autocrat, propaganda fed Russian or certain Chelsea fans.
People are starting to talk about him as the modern day Nelson Mandela, proving you don’t have to get clapped in jail forever to gain fame. You just need to shift from hit comedian to most wanted man in Russia to slam those search engine rankings. But, more importantly, Zelenksy seems to represent everything about current leadership that has us screaming for this particular upstart to succeed.
The world loves a good story and this one is more than good. A modern day, social media scripted, David versus Goliath. The ultimate boon for, well, Meta/Facebook/more-confused-branding, because apparently they can keep earning ad dollars in Russia when everyone else has closed down or been shut out or shot at. (Leave it to Nick Clegg to find a profitable way through). Other than Truth Social who seem to be expert at shutting themselves down. Is this new twitter thing working yet?
“When we see Ukraine we see ourselves and quickly come to realise that peace in the West is no longer baked in”.
He is the modern day leader in a modern day country. And the terrifying thing about watching this young, eloquent, tech savvy nation is that they could be us. And, if Vladimir Putin has his way or loses the rest of his shiz, it could well be us. So, when we see Ukraine we see ourselves and quickly come to realise that peace in the West is no longer baked in.
There’s something about Zelensky’s directness that both terrifies and inspires. Politicians are terrified of getting another call from him to kick them into yet more action. Oligarchs are terrified that he is more ‘du jour’ than them, while Putin is ever more furious he will shoot down another general or expensive plane or his bid to become global-President-in-perpetuity like some bugs bunny foe blowing his top yet again. Oh and Kim Kardashian, on the other hand, is terrified that he might displace her as ruler of social media. Kanye without the bipolar bit.
He is inspiring the rest of us to dress more casually, shave less and call out idle politicians. He galvanises us to stop putting up with unreasonable landlords and landowners trying to evict us or steal our land or block our rights of way (or should we call them humanitarian corridors). He makes us think hard about our own values and whether we would actually risk our lives or careers if Putin’s army would appear in our back yard. Would we fight?
“Maybe we all yearn for Zelensky and the Ukraine to win this one because secretly we wish he was our leader”.
This is not some long distant war in some far off, incomprehensible place. You know, like Ireland. This is in the heart of Europe… Oh wait…
A murderous invasion on everyone’s doorstep (so long as you are in the West). Its a war brought to us daily by someone we can all relate too - young and old alike. And this time its not just called iPhone. He communicates openly and clearly, he leads from the front and he knows how to look suave in Kermit the Frog colours carrying an AK47.
And maybe we all yearn for Zelensky and Ukraine to win this one because secretly we wish he was our leader. In these times of less than inspiring leadership he stands out. When he quotes Shakespeare and Churchill it sounds like the real thing. Not just another politician co-opting the words of great men. Maybe we all hope Ukraine will join the EU one day and Zelensky becomes its next President - boosting his Google stats even more and adding yet more miles to an already exhausting round trip of the EU borders with Speedy Guiterrez.
Zelensky might even persuade the UK to reverse Brexit. OK, maybe not that one.
But, for now, we might be hoping that like Mandela saved the world from apartheid, our Ukrainian hero can save the world, from, well, itself. After all, in many ways we have gone backwards from where we were following the previous world war and maybe we need this crisis to bring us all back from the brink.
“Maybe we’re too culture war’d and cancelled out of real life to realise that there are more important things out there worth fighting for”.
Back from flirting with autocracy and extreme nationalism and white supremacy. A world that does capitalism at all costs and burns the planet in the process. A world that lives on TikTok and Telegram and can’t seem to depart the couch from the latest streaming movie or game or new fangled metaverse that has us buying virtual Gucci’s for more than the real ones but are apparently beyond awesome because they come gold wrapped in that NFT thing that no one can understand.
Maybe we’re too culture war’d and cancelled out of real life to realise that there are more important things out there worth fighting for. Things like family and community and liberty and truth. Realising that freedom needs to be enjoyed and renewed - because it can no longer be taken for granted.
Maybe its time to see Zelensky and the Ukrainians for what they are. Modern day heroes. Heroes beyond even Marvel heroes. Heroes we should all try to emulate. Not by joining them in the battle field just yet - but by pushing for a new set of 21st Century freedoms and values that we all help to nurture. Values we paint by example. Freedoms that do not lead to certain destruction at the hands of despots or nuclear arms or plastic wrap. Values that let the Zelensky out in all of us.
Values that spread the good stuff around a bit more (not the wacky kind). That unite. That let the evicted Ukrainians come and stay with us instead of getting stuck in a freezing tent on some beach outside Calais, which might be good for kite-surfing but is crap for bringing up a five year old kid.
This statesman/comedian, who doesn’t need to resemble some kind of anorexic loony in a loincloth (just yet), might prove to be our saving grace. It’s just a shame that we let the West reach a point where it needed saving in the first place. Maybe it’s time for Western values and for democracy itself to get renewed. If not for ourselves, for future generations to enjoy the next seventy-five years of peace. A doorstop against what we seemed to have been doing just 2 weeks ago, squandering the hard won peace of the previous seventy-five.
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