KYIV, Ukraine – Russian tanks were rolling across the border and the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was gripped by fear and panic. Street fighting erupted and a Russian shield entered the city and advanced within two miles of President Volodymyr Zhelensky’s office.
In those tense first days of the war, almost everyone – Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, military analysts and many Western officials – expected the Ukrainian leadership to break up. Instead, Mr. Zhelensky personally decided to stay in the capital, where he took a selfie via Kiev to reassure his people. He also ordered his senior aides, several cabinet members and most of his government to remain present despite the risks.
Mr. This was a crystal moment for Gelensky’s government, which ensured that the various agencies functioned efficiently and harmoniously. Leading politicians set aside the sharp-elbow infighting that had defined Ukrainian politics for decades and instead formed a larger united front that continues today.
None of the senior officers left or fled, and the bureaucracy quickly went to war.
“In the early days of the war, everyone was in shock, wondering what to do – stay in Kiev or leave,” he said. Zhelensky’s spokesman Serhiy Nikiforov said. “The president’s decision is that no one should go anywhere. We stay in Kiev, we fight. That fact must be taken into account. “
For most of the world, Mr. Gelensky is best known for mobilizing his people, advising allies to provide weapons, money and moral support, and appearing in video appearances with the daily message of courage and resistance. On Sunday he again drew global attention, during a meeting with two top US officials in Kiev, Foreign Secretary Anthony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, also promised military support. And – in a move of symbolic significance – he said the United States would take action to reopen its embassy in Kiev.
But behind the scenes, Mr. Gelensky’s success so far has been rooted in the government’s ability to function smoothly, to deregulate the economy, to provide essential goods and services, and to take measures to empower people.
For example, by easing the rules for the transportation of goods, the government was able to address the risk of food shortages in the capital, Kiev, in the early days of the war. In March he reduced business taxes to 2 percent – only if the owner later paid.
“Pay if you can but no questions asked if you can’t,” Mr. Zhelensky said at the time.
More controversially, he merged six television stations and competed against each other. He said the merger was necessary for national security, but it frustrated political opponents and pro-speech advocates.
He is the primary domestic political opponent of former President Pedro O. Has formed a ceasefire with Poroshenko, with whom he fought until the war began.
A huge wartime effect of marching around the flag was undoubtedly Mr. Volodymyr Ermolenko, editor-in-chief of the journal Ukraine World, which covers politics, said it made Zhelensky’s job easier. “The strange thing about Ukrainian politics is that it comes from the community, not the political leaders,” he said. “He is Zhelensky because the Ukrainian people, behind him, show courage.”
He added, “This is not to underestimate his efforts.” Zhelensky credited him with transforming his populist, pre-war politics into an effective leadership style in the aftermath of the conflict.
These days, Mr. Zhelensky’s workplace is a dark place, crowded with soldiers; Corridors and stairwells have firing levels protected by sandbags. “We were ready to fight properly in this building,” Mr. Nikiforov said.
A former comedian, the Ukrainian leader has surrounded himself with a group of believers since the days he was on television, relationships that sparked accusations of cronyism in the past, but served him well by keeping his leadership team on the same page during the conflict. And Mr. Zhelensky has structured his days to suit him.
Mr. Zhelensky receives one-on-one explanations over the phone from General Valery Zalushny, commander of the Armed Forces.
This was followed by a morning video conference with the Prime Minister, sometimes other members of the Cabinet and heads of military and intelligence agencies in a form of military and civilian decision-making, his spokesman said. Nikiforov said.
Of course, Mr. Zhelensky’s video addresses – to the US Congress, the British Parliament, the Israeli Knesset and other governments – are defining and highly effective elements of his wartime role. Ukrainian and Russian forces are still on the battlefield in the eastern plains, but Kiev clearly won the information war.
Emotionally presented by a former actor with a keen sense of story and drama, Mr. Zhelensky’s speeches mobilized his countrymen and gained international support.
Some are advertised, others are highly scripted. Dimitrov Litwin, a 38-year-old former journalist and political analyst, said: He is said to have worked as a speechwriter for Zhelensky. Spokesman Mr. Nikiforov confirmed that the president was collaborating with a writer, but declined to say with whom.
Politically, Mr. Zhelensky made some early moves, which allowed him to minimize any civil strife that might detract from the war effort.
In the 2019 election, Mr. Mr. who has been harshly critical of him since his defeat to Zhelensky. The restless intimacy with Poroshenko is one of them. Their fighting continued even as Russia concentrated troops on the border, Mr. Mr. Zhelensky’s lawyer. Poroshenko was placed under house arrest for various politically motivated cases.
But On the day of the Russian invasion, the two leaders came to an understanding. “I met Mr. Jelensky and we shook hands,” he said. Poroshenko said in March. “We told her calm down and we would take care of her,” said Tariq al-Hashimi, the party’s secretary general.
Mr. Zhelensky outlawed another major opposition party, a pro-Russian political party.
Mr. Zhelensky’s political party, the People’s Service, won a majority of seats in parliament in 2019, allowing him to appoint a cabinet of believers before the war. Past Ukrainian governments have been divided between hostile presidents and opposition-controlled cabinets.
“Not on paper, but really, this is a great team,” said Igor Novikov, a former foreign policy adviser. “It’s so close.”
Tymofiy Mylovanov, a former economy minister and now economic adviser to the president’s office, has compared Ukrainian politics to “lovers’ fighting.”
“It was a family fight,” he said. “But family is paramount.”
The inner circle was mostly made up of senior players in the media, film and comedy industry, Mr. Similar to Zhelensky’s background.
Andrei Yermak, the leader of the staff and former filmmaker, is widely regarded as Ukraine’s second most powerful politician, although the successor to the constitution is Ruslan Stephensk, speaker of parliament, who was ousted in western Ukraine early in the war. Mr. Ermac oversees foreign and economic policy.
Other key advisers include Mikhail Bodolyak, a former journalist and negotiator with the Russians; Serhiy Shefir, a former screenwriter, is now a domestic political consultant; And Kirill Tymoshenko, a former videographer who now oversees humanitarian aid.
It was made up of high-ranking military commanders, including General Zalushny, who had experience fighting Russia during the eight-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.
In the early days of the war Mr. Zhelensky set three priorities for the ministries of his government, Mr. According to Milovanov: purchase of arms, export of food and other goods and maintenance of petrol and diesel supplies. Ministries were told to rewrite the rules to ensure speedy delivery on all three routes.
It was very helpful in the early frantic rush to get food for Kiev who was besieged and in danger of starvation.
With the supply chain disrupted, the President’s Office made an arrangement to establish a single trucking service for all food outlets among grocery chains, trucking companies and volunteer drivers. Stores will place the request on a website, and whichever driver is available, will fill the order for free or at gasoline prices.
Mr. The most controversial move by Zhelensky was to merge six television newsrooms into a single report as one channel. Mr. Channel 5, the main opposition party affiliated with Poroshenko, was removed from the television group.
Mr. Zhelensky maintained that the move was necessary for national security. Protesters saw the government as a complex event to suppress opposition.
“I believe wisdom will prevail, and the purpose is not to use it to bring down political rivals,” he said. Said Volodymyr Ariv, a member of Poroshenko’s Solidarity Political Party.
Transparency in the Ukrainian parliament was also affected by the war.
For security reasons, the parliament will last an hour or more at irregular, undeclared intervals to prevent the Russian ship from being hit by a missile.
To expedite the sessions, members do not discuss the bills in public room, but when creating them in private, Mr. According to Ariv. MPs then gather in the majestic, neo-classical chamber, vote quickly, and then disperse.
The President’s Economic Adviser, Mr. Mylovanov said Ukraine’s multicultural culture would rise again. Now unity is essential.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We will fight again for protectionist economic policy against liberalism, price controls, how to attract investment and everything else.”
Maria Varenikova Contributed report from Kyiv.
“Communicator. Music aficionado. Certified bacon trailblazer. Travel advocate. Subtly charming social media fanatic.”