Volodymyr Zelenskyy: The forgotten man

As Russia’s invasion approaches the two-year mark, the world seems to have lost interest in Ukraine, and its president.

Published On 7 Dec 2023 https://www.aljazeera.com/

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
The world, it seems, is tired of Ukraine, writes Mitrovica [Yves Herman/Pool via AP]

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a forgotten man fighting a forgotten war.

The Ukrainian president’s shooting star has lost much of its altitude and gleam as Russia’s grinding invasion approaches the two-year mark.

An old war has turned into a plodding stalemate. The ballyhooed Ukrainian “offensive” has stalled. The promised “breakthrough” remains stubbornly elusive – if possible at all. The lethal, tit-for-tat exchanges have sadly become routine. Stoicism has replaced outrage. However it may be defined, “victory” is far beyond strategic or even conceivable reach.

The world, it seems, is tired of Ukraine. Worse, it is bored.

So, the columnists who once praised Zelenskyy’s courage and Ukraine’s resistance in saccharine-laced homilies have largely forsaken both.

Gone too are the invitations to address US Congress or parliaments, where, clad in his trademark green pullover, Zelenskyy was feted as an impish, unorthodox warrior and liberator.


The mass demonstrations of solidarity with Ukraine’s “brave” and “just” fight disappeared many months ago.

Ukraine is no longer urgent, sympathetic “news”.

Lately, the only “news” that Zelenskyy and Ukraine are inviting is mostly bad – courtesy, in part, of unflattering leaks from a skittish White House.

“Leaked US strategy on Ukraine sees corruption as the real threat,” the prickly headline on Politico’s popular online portal read.

The story’s lead sentence was equally damning and a blatant sign that America’s – and, perhaps more particularly, US President Joe Biden’s – steadfast affection for plucky Ukraine is beginning to wane.

“Biden administration officials are far more worried about corruption in Ukraine than they publicly admit,” Politico warned.

The blunt, existential consequence of the brewing discontent among “Biden administration officials”?

“… that corruption could cause Western allies to abandon Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion, and that Kyiv cannot put off the anti-graft effort.”

That’s trouble, big trouble, for Zelenskyy.

He knows, I suspect, that time and circumstances are not his allies. Soon, very soon, his fair-weather friends in Europe and Washington, preoccupied, as always, with the present, will lose interest in the quickly receding past. Their “ironclad will” is slowly, but surely, being displaced by resignation.

When the “will” evaporates, inevitably so does the money.

And Zelenskyy needs a lot of money to keep a patient Vladimir Putin and his imperial plans at bay. Untold billions have already been spent. The prospect that Congress and the European Union will continue acting as Ukraine’s flush piggy bank is dimming. The pan-continental coffers are closing – fast.

So much so, that one frantic “Biden administration official” was reduced, in effect, to begging for cash. That, by any measure, is not a confident or reassuring look.

“I want to be clear: without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from US military stocks,” the director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House wrote.

“There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money – and nearly out of time.”

The panic-tinged gambit has failed, to date, to move reluctant European and North American lawmakers wary of bankrolling a war that is stuck in winter’s mud. A slog. A dead end.

Still, Ukraine’s rhetorical resolve is intact. Its foreign minister assured other diplomats gathered in Brussels recently that Ukraine would not “back down”.

“We have to continue; we have to keep fighting. Ukraine is not going to back down,” Dmytro Kuleba said. “The issue here is not just Ukraine’s security, it is the security and safety of the entire Euro-Atlantic space.”

His rallying cry has lost its potency. The call to shared purpose and goals sounded worn out, like a record skipping. The foreign minister’s bombast cannot camouflage the obvious: fatigue has set in.

On the horizon, an exasperating figure and a threat loom. Donald Trump must weigh on Zelenskyy’s mind and designs like a heavy, foreboding albatross.

The possible return of Putin’s pet president to the Oval Office in a touch more than a year from today could mean the sudden end of many things, including the war and Zelenskyy’s career.

In the meantime, another “war” is draining support for Zelenskyy and his fading cause. I think he understands this. He also understands that he is powerless to do anything tangible to staunch or reverse Ukraine slipping further into irrelevance and the back page.

Hence the near desperate plea made last week by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to his restive colleagues to “stay the course”. A course – an emerging consensus agrees – that leads to nowhere.

The murderous madness engulfing Palestinians in the pummeled-into-desert remains of Gaza and the overrun occupied West Bank has, once again, revealed the fraudulence and gaping hypocrisy of Biden and sycophantic company who oppose Russia’s “aggression” but champion Israel’s wanton inhumanity and cruelty.

Their defence of international law is a convenient sham. Their defence of human rights conventions is a convenient sham. Their defence of so-called “territorial integrity” is a convenient sham. Their defence of the supposed sacrosanct principle of the “responsibility to protect” is a convenient sham. Their defence of rules governing how “wars” are prosecuted and the weapons barred from use against civilians is a convenient sham. Their malleable reading of what constitutes a “war crime” is a nauseating sham. Finally, their opportunistic reading of what constitutes “genocide” is a repugnant sham.

Despite the predictable effort from the predictable quarters to “distinguish” the horrors in Ukraine from the horrors in Gaza and the West Bank, it is not working.

Millions of citizens whom Biden et al claim to represent have made that plain in the streets and have vowed to make it plain in the ballot box: the horrors by all must end.

Ceasefire now.

Unless and until that happens, Zelenskyy is confronting what he may fear most: apathy and obscurity.

That pervasive indifference is the product of the myopia and miscalculations of “statesmen” who failed to consider or anticipate the visceral, sweeping reaction to their wholesale rush to defend Israel unconditionally.

They were convinced that with the help of the ever reliable keyboard cavalry who populate the establishment press, their infuriating duplicity could be buried behind stale, condescending bromides.

They were wrong.

Ukraine’s fate has, as a result, vanished from much of the world’s consciousness seized, as it is, by the awful fate of Palestinians – abandoned by the same craven powers who, in due and deliberate course, will abandon Ukrainians.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows that too.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.