The Zelensky Effect

November 2022 9781787388635 224 pp
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With Russian shells raining on Kyiv and tanks closing in, American forces stood ready to evacuate Ukraine’s neophyte leader, a man whose main qualification just three years earlier seemed to be having played a president on TV. But in what became an international rallying cry, Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly retorted ‘I need ammunition, not a ride’. Ukrainian forces then won the battle for Kyiv, ensuring their country’s future independence even as a longer battle for its southeast set in.

You cannot understand the historic events of 2022 without understanding Zelensky. But the Zelensky effect is less about the man himself than about the civic nation in which he was born and that he embodies. In fact, what makes Zelensky most extraordinary in war is his very ordinariness as a Ukrainian, though paradoxically he is ‘ordinary’ in a way few others could be.

The Zelensky Effect explains this paradox, exploring Ukraine’s national history to show how he reflects and expresses the hopes and frustrations of its first ‘independence generation.’ Interweaving social science, historical narrative, and compelling episodes from Zelensky’s life and performances, this book presents a story of leadership and national identity in the face of corruption and war.


Olga Onuch is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester.

Henry E. Hale is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

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