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Meet Volodymyr Zelensky — Former Actor And Now President Of Ukraine Who's At Center Of Trump Impeachment

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Who Is Volodymyr Zelensky? New Details On President Of Ukraine In The Trump Impeachment

Volodymyr Zelensky is an unlikely politician. While he has a law degree, until last December, his career was as an actor, writer and producer for television. His show Servant of the People, about a teacher who becomes president of Ukraine in order to fight corruption, struck such a chord with the Ukrainian people that he made it come true. He ran for president and won the office in April of this year. Since then, his party took the majority in the parliament and he is working to try and stabilize the country and get rid of the corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. 

Now Zelensky is at the center of a corruption investigation in the United States, not because of his own actions, but because Donald Trump may have asked Zelensky to take illegal actions on his behalf.

Who is Volodymyr Zelenskky? Read on to learn more. 

1. Actor to politician

It's a perfect TV plot: idealistic schoolteacher whose tirade against corruption is filmed by his students, winds up online and suddenly goes viral, propelling him to the presidency, the New York Times reports. That was the basis of a hit comedy that 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelensky used to star in in Ukraine. But after the central message of the show caught fire, Zelensky made it real. He formed a political party named after the program Servant of the People and it carried him to the presidency this year. Now he is trying to deliver on his promise of rooting out corruption in Ukraine, a problem that has plagued the former Soviet Republic since it gained independence. This summer, he scored another victory when his party won a majority in the parliament, giving him the power to enact much of his platform in the coming years. Unfortunately, one phone call with a U.S. leader may be placing him in the midst of a corruption scandal far outside his own borders. 

He has been president of Ukraine since May.

2. US Defense of Ukraine

In addition to instability within the government, Ukraine has been through troubled times in the past several years as Russia poses a real and present danger to Ukrainian sovereignty. Russia invaded the Crimean section of the former Soviet Republic in 2014 and has continued to occupy the territory. The Ukrainian government has been trying to prepare for an defend against further incursions by the Russians ever since. The U.S. is the leading defender of the country and they rely heavily on U.S. funding and other support. Zelensny acknowledged this truth in a July phone call with Trump. "I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes," he said, referring to anti-tank missiles to be used in border defense.

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3. Quid pro quo

The conversation took a turn after Zelensky's effusive praise of U.S. aid to Ukraine. Once the two leaders established how much Ukraine needs U.S. assistance, Trump appeared to ask for a favor in return for the continued American support. "I would like you to do us a favor though," Trump said. "Because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine."

Trump appeared to be referring to the DNC server that was hacked by Russian operatives before the 2016 election. It is confirmed that Russia broke into the servers and stole emails but there have been efforts on the part of Trump and his supporters such as Rudy Giuliani to deflect blame away from Russia and lay it on Ukraine instead. 

Zelensky did not promise anything pertaining to the hacking investigation at that time but did reiterate his desire to maintain relations with the US. "Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier," Zelensky replied. "For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine."

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4. Look into Joe Biden

Zlenesky then acknowledged that one of his aides had spoken to Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney about matters related to US-Ukrainian diplomacy. Giuliani does not work for any branch of the government; he is privately engaged as a personal attorney to Trump himself. He does not have a security clearance and it is unclear under what authority he is doing diplomatic work. But both Trump and Zelensky discussed Giuliani's role in managing the relationship with the two countries. 

Trump launched into some characteristic praise of Giuliani before asking for another favor from Zelensky. "The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that," Trump said. "So whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me."

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5. Why bring up Biden?

Trump appeared to be referring to reopening a now-defunct investigation into a Ukrainian natural gas company called Bursima. Vice President Biden's son Hunter sat on the board of the company while it as being investigated for corruption. The investigation was closed without finding anything and reopened briefly after the original prosecutor was ousted to his own corruption problems. The reexamination also turned up no evidence of corruption. The idea of reopening the investigation at the same time that Joe Biden is making a bid to replace Trump has led many observers to suspect that Trump's only motive is to get dirt on a political opponent. While opposition research is a common practice in U.S. politics, engaging a foreign person or government to do it for you is a violation of campaign finance laws. 

6. Is Zelensky complicit?

Zelensky has never made a secret of his desire to clean up the government. Following up on a lead about corruption in his nation would not be outside his priorities. He even agreed to work with Trump on looking into the Bidens, saying he was getting ready to appoint a new prosecutor and would direct that person to start investigating. "He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue," Zelensky said. "The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation." After saying that, he pivoted to more current issues such as energy policy and Ukraine buying U.S. oil exports. 

One thing on Zelensky's mind may have been a freeze on aid money intended for Ukraine. Months before, Trump had personally ordered a freeze on aid to Ukraine, according to the Washington Post. Zelensky has been mystified why the money had been frozen even after it had been approved by the U.S. Congress. Zelenesky never brought that up on the call but both men knew that Ukraine needed the money and Trump had the all power to release it. 

Zelenskyy with Angela Merkel.

7. House to impeach Trump

That phone call is now the subject of a whistleblower report that has the House of Representatives likely to impeach Donald Trump for election law violations as well as potentially for charges such as obstruction of justice. The day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would begin an impeachment investigation, Trump and Zelensky met at the UN. In a previously scheduled press conference, Trump spoke voluminously — though not entirely coherently — about the call. Zelensky, perhaps cognizant of the need to stay as neutral as possible, merely said: “Nobody pushed me. Good phone call. It was normal.”

At this time, the House is moving forward with the investigation into Donald Trump. There is no word on whether Zelensky will be asked to comment or testify. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.