02 March 2022, The Tablet

Ukraine: the story of a nation

Ukraine: the story of a nation

Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned comic fiction into fact when he was elected president
Photo: Alamy/Sopa


In the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has forged a cohesive and distinct identity while Russia remains a state in search of a national idea

It took a little while for Ukrainians to comprehend that Russia really was acting on its threat to invade. Almost at once, though, two things happened: Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who had remained preternaturally calm through weeks of ever more urgent Western warnings, transformed himself into an invent­ive and inspirational war leader, and large numbers of his fellow countrymen, across age, class and wealth, turned themselves into would-be warriors for their homeland.

It was impressive, and often touching, to watch. Rather than taking the first helicopter out, sheltering in a bunker or, indeed, addressing ministers from one end of a very, very long table, Zelenskiy went out into the streets of Kyiv and posted pictures of himself beside well-known buildings in the capital to show that he was still there. Publicly rejecting a US offer to help him leave the country, he said what he needed was “ammo, not a ride”.

For some younger people, rushing to sling a Kalashnikov over their shoulder, the prospect of war was undoubtedly an adventure. But it was deadly serious, too. What was at stake, for all Ukrainians, was the very existence of their homeland – and many of them were springing to its defence.

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