Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Ukraine's wartime leader who became a hero to UK politicians

President addressed parliament in Westminster and will see his troops training on his first visit to Britain since the outbreak of war

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Britain on Wednesday where he received a hero's welcome from politicians in Westminster.

The rare foreign visit is his first appearance on British soil since the outbreak of war in February last year.

Mr Zelenskyy, 45, developed a strong rapport with former prime minister Boris Johnson after Russia's invasion, and has previously expressed gratitude for Britain's extensive military and economic support.

While he has welcomed numerous foreign leaders to Kyiv — including US President Joe Biden and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen — Mr Zelenskyy's trips abroad are far less common, owing to the difficult situation on Ukraine's front line.

An enthusiastic communicator, Mr Zelenskyy has been an ever-present figure during the conflict, delivering a nightly address to his citizens and making regular appeals to international audiences via video link.

He has previously addressed the UN Security Council and Davos, as well as events such as the Grammys and the Golden Globes in an attempt to drum up broad global support.

Who is Volodymyr Zelenskyy?

Mr Zelenskyy was born to Jewish parents in 1978 in the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union.

A grandson of a soldier who fought the Nazis as part of the Red Army, Mr Zelenskyy studied economics and law at Kryvyi Rih National University.

He became an actor and comedian at the age of 17, starring in various films. His political satire singled him out in 2015 to play the lead in Servant of the People, which centred on a fictional character who won the presidency in Ukraine and launched sweeping reforms to save it from a corrupt political class.

With no previous political experience, Mr Zelenskyy was elected for real on April 21, 2019. He beat the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, with nearly 73 per cent of the vote.

He campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket and promised negotiations with Russia to find a solution to the turmoil in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which has been run by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.

His critics describe Mr Zelenskyy as a puppet of Ukrainian business mogul Ihor Kolomoyskyy, the former billionaire governor of the key industrial region of Dnipropetrovsk.

In the lead-up to the Russian invasion, Mr Zelenskyy was critical of Mr Biden’s open and detailed warnings about Vladimir Putin’s intentions, saying they were premature and could cause panic.

During the continuing crisis, he became a social media star, with millions of followers on Instagram. Many of his admirers have shared photos from his past life as an actor as well as others with his wife and parents.

Washington and its allies were often subjected to criticism for not doing more to protect Ukraine, including defending it militarily or accelerating its application to join Nato.

Mr Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, an architect, have a daughter, 17, and son, nine. It is thought they remained in Ukraine when Russia invaded in February 2022 and did not join the exodus of mainly women and children seeking safety abroad.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy through the years - in pictures

Updated: February 09, 2023, 8:33 AM