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Servant of the People

Netflix USA has started streaming "Servant of the People," starring Volodymyr Zelenskyy -- yes, that Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I watched the first couple episodes, and it is...well, surreal.

Zelenskyy, a shoe-in for "Person of the Year" and other awards (hopefully he will be around to accept in person, not awarded posthumously...) has of course made quite a name for himself ("the Churchill of our time" was one moniker that I think applies). He has stood up to Vladimir Putin and his war machine, has lead his country and inspired the world with his bravery, skills, and charisma. There is no doubt that he is a Very Smart Guy.

His rise from actor, comedian, competitor on Ukraine's version of Dancing With The Stars, to President and now wartime leader of Ukraine has been an odd mix, as life imitates art as it imitates life. The story line in "Servant of the People" has Zelenskyy playing an ordinary high school history teacher, a simple "everyman" type, living with his parents, riding his bike to school, with a diminutive physical presence -- I think young Mr Zelenskyy somewhat physically resembles the UK comedian, "Mister Bean" (Rowan Atkinson). (No wonder Putin underestimated him.) But his character is frustrated, fed up, fed up with corruption, with the games politicians and their powerful backers play, fed up with how elections always offer up a choice between the lesser of two evils (he uses more colorful language to describe them). One day he goes off on a rant, decrying corrupt politicians and how they fail the people they promise to serve...the rant is captured in video by one of his students, it's posted to social media, it goes viral, and to everyone's surprise (Zelenskyy himself most of all), he finds he has been unexpectedly elected to lead Ukraine.

Knowing how Zelenskyy came to power (his ascendancy to lead Ukraine in the real world was about as unlikely as it was portrayed in fiction), and how he has only grown in stature during the current crisis is astonishing, and I found the series fascinating. It's as slick as any Hollywood series, with good production values -- though of course the dialog is in Ukrainian (English subtitles -- they roll by pretty quickly so you need to stay focused to keep up). In addition to the bizarre portrayal of Zelenskyy as a lovable but sometimes bumbling guy, I found the scenery of Kyiv (beautifully lit and filmed in HD) heartbreaking. What a lovely, modern, shining city is seems (and hopefully will be again after the Russians are driven out and forced to help pay for the rebuilding of the nation).

If you are fascinated by current events, if the real-life Zelenskyy inspires you, this is worth a look. I don't know if I will get through the entire series (Season 1, 23 episodes, is currently available on Netflix USA streaming), but I found it both weird and intriguing through the first two episodes. It's not like other stuff on TV, that's for sure.

I'm just not sure I'm ready to watch him on Dancing With The Stars...

Slava Ukraini!

Posted by
6385 posts

Thanks, David. I visited Ukraine with a student group many many years ago. We went to Kiev and Odessa, and loved it. It was a different world then, but we all - who had spent a couple of months going to school and travelling in the Soviet Union - fell in love with Ukraine.

Posted by
4359 posts

Thanks, David. I had read all this - but was even more fascinated to find (if I read correctly) that he brought some of the writing team into actual leadership roles. And I have seen clips of Dancing with the Stars and he is good. As well as a vocal guitar duet with his wife.

Putin would be ill-advised to create a martyr.

Posted by
6788 posts

@Travelmom - Zelenskyy clearly is smart, talented, and it seems he must have surrounded himself with others with similar qualities. Their leadership, strategy and execution of the defense of Ukraine has been beyond brilliant. They're making very good use of all they have, and from the looks of things, they have already defeated the "formerly mighty" Russian army. Yeah, the Russians can lob explosives from a distance, cause plenty of misery and suffering, but they have lost. They expected to roll through Kyiv in 1 or 2 days, and be pelted with flowers. A month later, Ukrainians are not throwing flowers, the Russians have all but given up on their original plans, now admitting they are "re-focusing their efforts" on areas to the east. They will never hold major cities, even if they turn them to rubble. According to reports on BBC today, the Russian Defense Minister has suffered a heart attack (caused by Putin blaming him for the failed invasion, according to one source). The Defense Minister is reportedly now in a hospital, awaiting "rehabilitation treatments." Must be some unconventional therapy.

I suspect Zelenskyy will keep his job longer than Putin. Putin won't be a martyr for anyone. Maybe we'll see Putin on the Russian versions of Dancing With The Stars once he's lost his current job? Now that I'd like to see.

Anyway, for anyone who is interested in what Kyiv -- and Zelenskyy -- looked like before the Russians showed up to destroy it, the show is worth a look.

Posted by
7664 posts

David, this is fascinating to read, and thanks for the details. Life imitating art that reflects life. Ukraine certainly didn’t need this, and the deaths are especially tragic. It will be fantastic when Ukraine is able to welcome tourists again. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later, but a good deal of restoration will be needed, to say the least.

Putin on Dancing With the Has-Beens, hmmmmm. Based on what he’s done over the last month, I’m guessing he’ll stumble, and trip over himself. Zelenskyy has certainly demonstrated some fancy footwork, in comparison.