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Eight surprising facts you might not know about Ukrainian President

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced Paddington Be
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian dub of the animated films. STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images ; StudioCanal
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is leading the nation amid Russia's invasion.
  • Before entering politics and becoming president in 2019, Zelenskyy was a comedian and a TV star. 
  • He won Ukraine's "Dancing With the Stars" and voiced Paddington Bear in the "Paddington" movies.
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Zelenskyy studied law, but his career changed trajectories when he became involved with theatre and comedy during college.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy backstage in 2019. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Volodymyr Zelenskyy backstage in 2019. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Zelenskyy earned a law degree in 2000 from Kyiv National Economic University, but he was active in theatre and comedy during his studies, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1997, his comedy troupe, Kvartal 95, appeared on the televised improvisational comedy competition KVN, and Zelenskyy went on to become a series regular.

He wrote and starred in several films produced by a production company he co-founded, Studio Kvartal 95.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy plays ping pong with a journalist in 2019. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Volodymyr Zelenskyy plays ping pong with a journalist in 2019. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

In 2005, Zelenskyy made his film and screenwriting debut in a musical-comedy version of "The Three Musketeers," in which he played D'Artagnan. He went on to write and star in "No Love in the City," "Corporal vs. Napoleon," "8 First Dates," and "Love in Vegas."

He won Ukraine's version of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2006.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds flowers after performing onstage in 2019. SERGIY GUDAK/AFP via Getty Images
Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds flowers after performing onstage in 2019. SERGIY GUDAK/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter user @abughazalehkat shared a resurfaced compilation video from Ukraine's "Dancing With the Stars" competition in 2006 showing Zelenskyy dancing in a variety of styles and an array of costumes. He took first place with dance partner Olena Shoptenko.

Zelenskyy voiced Paddington in the Ukrainian versions of the animated children's films.

A scene from "Paddington."
StudioCanal

"Paddington" producer StudioCana confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Zelenskyy voiced the lovable bear in both "Paddington" films.

He starred in a popular TV show in Ukraine called "Servant of the People," in which he played the president.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy performs at a comedy show in 2019. STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Volodymyr Zelenskyy performs at a comedy show in 2019. STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In the show, which aired from 2015 to 2019, Zelenskyy's character is an idealistic school teacher who goes on a viral tirade about government corruption and ends up becoming president.

In real life, he won the presidency in a landslide victory with over 70% of the vote in April 2019.

Zelenskyy's show once made a joke about President Vladimir Putin that got it cancelled in Russia.

Vladimir Putin (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Vladimir Putin (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images ; Laurent Van der Stockt for Le Monde/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Vladimir Putin (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images ; Laurent Van der Stockt for Le Monde/Getty Images

Zelenskyy sparred with Putin long before the current military invasion, according to the Hulu documentary "Two Men at War" by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

"Do you know, by the way, who else wears this watch?" a Hublot watch salesman asks Zelenskyy's character in a clip from "Servant of the People." "Putin," he adds.

"Who?" Zelenskyy asks. "Putin Hublot?"

"Yes," the salesman responds.

The pronunciation sounds like "Putin khuilo," a crude football and protest chant used by Ukrainians against Putin, according to the London Evening Standard. ABC News senior national correspondent Terry Morgan said the "off-colour joke" caused the show to get canceled in Russia.

"In one episode, Zelenskyy makes a joke about Putin, kind of an off-color joke," he said. "And afterwards, that show was cancelled in Russia. But it added a dimension of political satire, of addressing the problems in Ukraine through comedy. People loved it."

Zelenskyy is Jewish.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a speech next to a menorah at The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in 2019. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a speech next to a menorah at The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in 2019. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Zelenskyy spoke about his family's Jewish heritage and losses in the Holocaust at an event in Israel in January 2020 marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. His grandfather survived the Holocaust, but his grandfather's three brothers did not.

Insider's Sonam Sheth and John Haltiwanger wrote that Putin defied logic by justifying Russia's invasion of Ukraine by calling for the "de-Nazification" of a democratic country led by a Jewish president.

He and his wife, screenwriter Olena Zelenska, have two children.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena Zelenska. Presidency of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena Zelenska. Presidency of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Zelenskyy met Zelenska in college, where she switched from studying architecture to writing and became a screenwriter for his production company, according to Tatler.

They share two children, 17-year-old Aleksandra and 9-year-old Kiril.

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