Volodymyr Zelenskyy and "the spirit of Ukraine" have been named Time’s 2022 Person of the Year.
The Ukrainian president, 44, has been called a hero by many in his country and abroad, and over the last year, established himself as a symbol of defiance and democracy while he continues to lead the nation through Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
Time Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal announced the magazine’s choice exclusively on "TODAY" on Wednesday, saying that Zelenskyy has kept the world’s attention on Ukraine.
“Whether one looks at this story of Ukraine with a sense of hope or a sense of fear, and the story is, of course, not fully written yet ... Zelenskyy has really galvanized the world in a way we haven’t seen in decades,” he said.
In an essay revealing Zelenskyy's win, Time reporter Simon Shuster wrote: “Zelenskyy’s success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious. It spread through Ukraine’s political leadership in the first days of the invasion, as everyone realized the President had stuck around.”
Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and Zelenskyy refused to leave Kyiv, instead staying on the ground and supporting the people of his country. “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” he told the United States, according to a tweet shared by the Ukrainian Embassy in Britain two days later.
The war has continued for nearly 10 months with no end in sight. Zelenskyy has made risky visits to support Ukrainian soldiers and the country at large, including a trip to the front lines of the Donbas region in June, and celebrating with residents of the city of Kherson after Russian troops withdrew in November.
He told the magazine that his security was against his visit to Kherson because of the poor shape the Russian forces left the city in, as well as the possibility that they left behind agents and saboteurs who could harm him. But the answer as to why he did it was simple: “It’s the people.”
“My security was 100% against it,” Zelenskyy told Time during the trip to Kherson. “They took it hard. They can’t control practically anything in a region that has just been de-occupied. So it’s a big risk, and, on my part, a bit reckless.”
But his willingness to stay has inspired Ukrainians to take up arms in the fight against Russia.
“Zelenskyy gives me confidence,” a 35-year-old Ukrainian woman identified as Natasha said in an interview. “For me, Zelenskyy is the real fighter of democracy worldwide and for the peaceful future of our children and our world.”
He has even motivated some international fighters, such as Bryan Stern, an Army and Navy combat veteran, and Conor Kennedy, the grandson of former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
“Attention is, in many ways, the world’s most valuable currency,” Felsenthal said of Zelenskyy. “He really understands the weapons of this digital age and he’s kept the eyes of the world on this story.”
Zelenskyy was elected president in April 2019, and previously was an actor and a comedian. He was well known in the country for starring in “Servant of the People,” a sitcom in which he played a high school teacher who gets thrust into politics after a recorded rant against corruption in government goes viral. His character in the show ends up winning the presidency.
In April, three years after becoming president, Zelenskyy told Time he had aged and changed “from all this wisdom that I never wanted.”
Time’s Person of the Year, chosen by the magazine’s editors every year since 1927, is representative of the influence the person has had on the news within the past year.
Time editors chose Zelenskyy out of a shortlist of nine others that included Chinese President Xi Jinping, the U.S. Supreme Court, Elon Musk, Rep. Liz Cheney, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, protesters in Iran, gun safety advocates and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and now Twitter, was the magazine’s pick for Person of the Year in 2021. The year before that, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were selected as having the most influence in 2020.
Felsenthal also revealed the women of Iran as 2022’s Heroes of the Year. The magazine named Blackpink as Time’s 2022 Entertainer of the Year, and Aaron Judge as Time’s 2022 Athlete of the Year, which was announced on "TODAY" on Tuesday.