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Zelenskyy and the spirit of Ukraine are 'Time' magazine's 2022 Person of the Year

TIME's cover shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, surrounded by other individuals and crowds of protesters woven together with bright yellow sunflowers and blue and yellow Ukrainian flags.
TIME
TIME's cover shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, surrounded by other individuals and crowds of protesters woven together with bright yellow sunflowers and blue and yellow Ukrainian flags.

Much of the world has spent the last year watching the war in Ukraine as the country defends itself from Russian attacks and asserts its identity on the global stage.

So it may not come as a surprise to many that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and "the spirit of Ukraine" are officially Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2022.

The magazine, which has bestowed the honor annually since 1927, released the announcement on Wednesday alongside a lengthy profile of the wartime leader. It credits his stewardship of Ukraine's defense — which has halted Russia's advance and regained key territories — as well as its public image.

"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," Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal said when revealing the news on the TODAY show.

The cover features a profile of Zelenskyy in his classic army-green sweater, surrounded by individual figures and crowds of protesters. They are interspersed with bright yellow sunflowers and blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags.

The publication refers to Zelenskyy's pointed refusal to evacuate abroad when Russia first invaded in February, as well as his risky visits to frontline regions in the months since, as examples of his fortitude that have inspired other Ukrainians in their fight for freedom.

And it highlights his strategic efforts to keep Ukraine top-of-mind for supporters around the world.

"If we fall out of focus, we are in danger," Andiry Yermak, his chief of staff, said.

In his army-green tees and quarter-zips, Zelenskyy cuts a recognizable figure in his many virtual appearances at global conferences, speeches to educational institutions and visits with foreign leaders and Hollywood celebrities alike.

Time (like many others) notes that the 44-year-old former actor and comedian, who was elected president in 2019 after playing one on a TV show, relies on a unique background and set of skills to meet the current moment.

"[Zelenskyy] was adaptable, trained not to lose his nerve under pressure," writes Time reporter Simon Shuster. "He knew how to read a crowd and react to its moods and expectations. Now his audience was the world. He was determined not to let them down."

But the war has changed Zelenskyy too — and not just because of the physical toll it has taken. One military adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, told Time that the president has ditched quick movements, jokes and chattiness for a more aggressive posture.

"He's lost that actorly quality, and he's turned into a boss," he said.

Time isn't only praising the president; it's also honoring "the spirit of Ukraine" as its person of the year.

In a separate article, it credits some of the individuals who have contributed to Ukraine's resilience and recovery, ranging from medical providers and humanitarian leaders to volunteers and journalists. While some of that support came from outside the country, the publication also honors Ukrainians themselves.

"If the choices their President articulated gave moral clarity to an era we'd mostly been scrolling through, it was people who gave it meaning, by acting," it reads.

The publication also honored the women of Iran as 2022's Heroes of the Year, in addition to Blackpink as Entertainer of the Year and Aaron Judge as Athlete of the Year.

Time picked Zelenskyy from a shortlist of 10 people that included Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, gun safety advocates and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Its announcement comes two days after British business publication Financial Times named Zelenskyy its person of the year.

In that interview, he told the newspaper that he doesn't consider himself courageous.

"I am more responsible than I am brave," he said. " I just hate to let people down."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.