How a namesake of the Ukrainian president survived several months under Russian occupation – media reports

Pensioner Volodymyr Zelensky shows his passport to journalists

The former construction worker has no known relationship to the President of Ukraine, and outwardly, as he puts it, he looks more like US President Joe Biden.

As AFP reports, when Russian occupation forces came knocking on the doors of his small village in eastern Ukraine at the end of April to verify the identity of the inhabitants, Volodymyr Zelensky, a 64-year-old pensioner, was terrified.

Then one of the Russian soldiers glanced at his passport and burst out laughing.

“It’s okay guys, the war is over,” the soldier said.

“We can go home – we have their president!”

Born in 1958 in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, then part of the Soviet Union, to a coal miner and construction worker, Zelenskyy, namesake of the Ukrainian leader, served as a driver in the Soviet army and then worked in construction.

Since Russia invaded its neighbor in February, Zelenskyy has spent most of the war hiding from bombardment in the basement of his home.

“I had quit smoking four years before, but started again,” he said.

According to AFP, his wife Valentyna Zelenska, 72, was evacuated to western Ukraine at the start of the war, but Zelenskyy refused to leave the house he bought 20 years ago.

Zelenska returned home after Kyiv forces expelled the Russians from the village in late September. But it’s now being pounded by Russian artillery, and she’s alarmed every time an explosion outside blows the plastic sheeting from their gutted window inwards.

“She didn’t get used to it,” her husband said.

Using a flashlight, he retrieved an old photo album and found a photo of himself as a man in his 40s in a khaki uniform.

“I don’t think I look like the president. Not at all,” he said.

His wife disagreed.

“But you look like him!” she says.

He’s laughing.

“Which president are you talking about? Biden? ” He asked.

His wife said that Zelenskyy was a common surname in Ukraine, as well as in Russia.

But she admits she had never known another Volodymyr Zelensky until the current Ukrainian leader, a former comedian, was elected president in 2019.

Zelenskyy, the pensioner, voted for his namesake in the elections.

“He looks good, he’s young, smart,” he said.

But now Zelenskyy says he’s disappointed the president isn’t doing more to negotiate an end to the war with Russia.

“People here can’t take it anymore,” he says.

Like many residents of his generation in the eastern region of Donbass, Zelenskyy considers Ukraine his homeland.

But the former Soviet soldier is also nostalgic for his years under the Soviet regime which he says brought peace and prosperity to his generation.

It was the couple’s 22nd wedding anniversary on October 26 and Zelenskyy wanted to give his wife a bouquet of flowers.

But in a village ravaged by fighting and cut off from the rest of the world, there was none.

Read the original article at The new voice of Ukraine

Michael A. Bynum