Brave Volodymyr: The Sto­ry of Volodymyr Zelen­sky and the Fight for Ukraine

  • Review
By – December 20, 2023

In this infor­ma­tive new pic­ture book biog­ra­phy of Volodymyr Zelen­sky, Lin­da Elovitz Mar­shall describes the Ukrain­ian leader’s expe­ri­ences and unex­pect­ed rise to promi­nence. The urgency of Marshall’s sub­ject is self-evi­dent, and its com­plex­i­ties are bound to chal­lenge young readers.

The author care­ful­ly assem­bles the events of Zelensky’s life to explain how he became pres­i­dent of Ukraine. She begins with the premise that, when he was a child, Volodymyr hat­ed lies.” Although this char­ac­ter­i­za­tion can­not be proven, it’s cer­tain­ly plau­si­ble, giv­en the tra­jec­to­ry of his career.

Between 2015 and 2019, Zelen­sky starred in a tele­vi­sion series called Ser­vant of the Peo­ple, in which his char­ac­ter becomes the pres­i­dent of Ukraine. (Zelen­sky was him­self sworn in as pres­i­dent in 2019.) While the comedic series was a suc­cess, the assault on democ­ra­cy in Ukraine led Zelen­sky to con­clude that “ … that some things could not be fixed with humor.”

Those things” include the crush­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment that was born of Ukraine’s cor­rupt 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and the dis­ap­point­ing sub­se­quent admin­is­tra­tion of Vik­tor Yushchenko. By depict­ing nor­mal events in Zelensky’s per­son­al life — such as rais­ing a fam­i­ly — along­side these more col­lec­tive events, Mar­shall implies that author­i­tar­i­an rule is not abstract: its injus­tices affect ordi­nary peo­ple. Illus­tra­tor Grasya Oliyko jux­ta­pos­es pic­tures of Zelensky’s chil­dren play­ing cheer­ful­ly with blocks with images of Yushchenko demean­ing his cit­i­zens by appeas­ing Putin. Oliyko’s art style com­bines the sim­plic­i­ty of comics with a long tra­di­tion of Euro­pean polit­i­cal car­toons; and her black-and-white line draw­ings are accent­ed with touch­es of blue and yel­low, the col­ors of Ukraine’s flag. Both Marshall’s nar­ra­tion and Oliyko’s illus­tra­tions demon­strate that Ukraini­ans refuse to be dis­suad­ed by daunt­ing odds.

As a Jew, Zelen­sky has become a sym­bol of Ukraine’s his­to­ry of anti­semitism. After explain­ing that Jews have lived in Ukraine for over a mil­len­ni­um, Mar­shall briefly alludes to the fact that hatred of Jews pre­dat­ed the Nazi inva­sion dur­ing World War II: Through­out the country’s his­to­ry, Jew­ish peo­ple were often dis­crim­i­nat­ed against and bul­lied … or worse.” With­out eras­ing this painful past, Mar­shall makes a point of show­ing that Ukraini­ans have elect­ed and sup­port­ed a Jew­ish pres­i­dent who is lead­ing their strug­gle against fascism.

Brav­ery might be only one com­po­nent of Zelensky’s lead­er­ship and his people’s fight, but it plays a cen­tral role in this inspir­ing book.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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