TIME's 2022 Person of the Year: Volodymyr Zelensky & the Spirit of Ukraine by Donna John
The cover story, by TIME’s Simon Shuster who spent nine months reporting on the invasion, during which Zelensky and his team have granted him unparalleled access to work inside the presidential compound, features an exclusive interview with President Zelensky on his private train while on a trip to the newly liberated city of Kherson on November 14, 2022. Near Kherson, Shuster also reported from the bomb-proof military bunker, where Zelensky held a strategy session with officers in charge of the southern front. (Read the story, which features exclusive photography by Ukrainian photographer Maxim Dondyuk.)
In his letter to readers, TIME Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal writes, “This year’s choice was the most clear-cut in memory. Whether the battle for Ukraine fills one with hope or with fear, the world marched to Volodymyr Zelensky’s beat in 2022. In the weeks after Russian bombs began falling on February 24, his decision not to flee Kyiv but to stay and rally support was fateful. From his first 40-second Instagram post on February 25 ... Ukraine’s president was everywhere. His information offensive shifted the geopolitical weather system, setting off a wave of action that swept the globe. In a world that had come to be defined by its divisiveness, there was a coming together around this cause, around this country that some outside it might not be able to find on a map.”
The impact of this story on 2022 is the essence of what Person of the Year was designed to capture, the idea that fateful events on the global stage are shaped – for better and worse – by the talents, priorities, fears and foibles of individual human beings, Felsenthal continues. "For proving that courage can be as contagious as fear, for stirring people and nations to come together in defense of freedom, for reminding the world of the fragility of democracy – and of peace, Volodymyr Zelensky and the spirit of Ukraine are TIME’s 2022 Person of the Year.”
In the cover story, Shuster reveals what he learned over nine months of reporting, during which Zelensky and his team have granted him unparalleled access to work inside the presidential compound: “In April, less than two months into the invasion, Zelensky told me he had aged and changed ‘from all this wisdom that I never wanted.’ Now, half a year later, the transformation was starker. Aides who once saw him as a lightweight now praise his toughness. Slights that might once have upset him now elicit no more than a shrug. Some of his allies miss the old Zelensky, the practical joker with the boyish smile. But they realize he needs to be different now, much harder and deaf to distractions, or else his country might not survive.”
Here are some highlights from TIME's exclusive interview with President Zelensky:
- On Zelensky’s private carriage, where TIME’s interview took place, Shuster writes: “The train has become the President’s primary means of long-distance travel. From the outside, his carriage is indistinguishable from a regular passenger car. Inside, my expectations of a high-tech command center on wheels, or at least a well-stocked bar, did not pan out. There was no Internet on board, and the amenities were modest.”
- On Zelensky's family, Shuster writes: "Zelensky sees his family much more often now than in the first weeks of the war. During a recent visit, his 9-year-old son, Kyrylo, surprised his father with his expertise in military matters. Zelensky seemed proud of the boy’s new interests."
- Of his son’s interest in the military, Zekensky tells TIME: “He studies it all. He looks it up online. He talks to the bodyguards ... He’s a fan of our armed forces, our army, and he knows deeply what our mission is, what we’re liberating, what weapons we have and what we’re missing.”
- On whether its history has hardened Ukraine as a nation, contributing to their resolve in fighting the present war: “Some people might say it hardened us. But I think it took away so much of Ukraine’s ability to develop ... It was one blow after another, the hardest kind. How does that harden us? People barely survived. Hunger broke them. It broke their psyches, and of course that leaves a trace.”
- On how, despite comparisons that have been made between him and Winston Churchill, he would prefer to be associated with other figures from Churchill’s era, such as the author George Orwell, or with the great comedian who lampooned Hitler in the middle of the Holocaust: "I’ve raised the example of Charlie Chaplin ... how he used the weapon of information during the Second World War to fight against fascism. You see, there were these artists who helped society, because they had a lot of admirers, and their influence was often stronger than artillery.”
- On how the only way to defeat an enemy like Russia is to convince the rest of the free world to pull Ukraine in the other direction, toward sovereignty: “I don’t want to weigh who has more tanks and armies ... We are dealing with a powerful state that is pathologically unwilling to let Ukraine go,” Zelensky told me. “They see the democracy and freedom of Ukraine as a question of their own survival.”
- On the world's attitude toward Russia: “The Russians need to understand ... They will have no forgiveness. They will have no acceptance in the world.”
- On how the loss of freedom in one nation erodes freedom in all the rest: “If they devour us, the sun in your sky will get dimmer.”
The 2022 Person of the Year issue of TIME goes on sale on Friday, December 16.
Source and photo: Press release from TIME magazine.
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