By: Eric Betts
Our prayers and heartfelt concerns are with the Ukranian people and the protesters in Russia. On February 24, 2022, the Russian military launched a major ground invasion against Ukraine. The sad reality about this unnecessary and inhumane invasion of Ukraine is that Russia has a large Ukranian population, and a significant portion of ethnic Russians are citizens of Ukraine. This alone should cause the Russian government to value the humanity and aspirations of its neighboring country. There were tens of thousands of Russians who courageously took to the streets in Russia to protest the inhumanity of its own government’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, born in 1978 during the era of the former Soviet Union, was an actor and comedian. The idea that he would ever become president was unthinkable a decade ago. One journalist said that it would be the equivalent of John Stewart or Will Ferrell being elected president in the US. He was elected as president in 2019 with promises of reforming a corrupt political system. The idea of Zelensky becoming president of a major country is as unlikely as Amy Shumer becoming president of the United States. Regardless of the odds, Zelensky became president. Little did he know that in addition to bringing reform to Ukraine, three years later he would be fighting against the second strongest military power in the world.
Many national leaders, facing similar odds would have fled the country in order to preserve their lives as heads of State. Zelensky has not only refused to flee, but has regularly appeared on video in military style, street clothing. He has become David-like in his fight against a regional Goliath. He has been seen on the streets encouraging civilian and military fighters in their efforts to repel the Russian tanks.
As of this writing, Zelensky has declared that he remains in the Ukrainian capital. The Americans and Europeans offered him assistance to escape the country. He responded by saying, “I don’t need a ride out; I need artillery.” Courage is always infectious, and by showing this level of courage, the president of Ukraine has inspired both his population and protesters in Russia. The bravery, perseverance, resilience, and faith of a former comedian president against almost impossible odds stands in stark contrast to an adversary who appears desperate, deranged, and inhuman. As a result of Zelensky’s display of bravery, he has unwittingly transformed himself into an international leader admired around the world. Within a few days, he has become an icon of defiance and boldness in the fight for his people’s freedom and self-determination, while his adversary is being viewed in the same light as oppressive European dictators of the last century. He is no longer a mere president of a little-known country, but destiny has made him a global icon admired on all continents. He has become a household name in countries that heretofore had no knowledge of him, and millions are rooting for him and his countrypersons.
His courage has had an infectious effect on the people he leads. Ukraine has allowed women and children to flee, but all men from 18—60 years old must remain and fight for their country. Most are happily inspired to do so because of the holy boldness of their leader. As a result, even women are remaining to help with the fight. The people of Ukraine, as of this writing, have been able to repel the Russian invaders within their capital city for several days. This temporary success, inspired by their leader, has made the Ukrainians even more determined to stand up for their rights as human beings on this Earth. Let us all pray for a swift end to this unjust attack on a sovereign people and for the survival of this budding democracy in the world. Let us also seek to emulate the courage of president Zelensky as we seek to do good for others in this world.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University