TIME

Man in the middle

A YEAR IS A LONG TIME IN POLITICS.

Long enough in the case of Volodymyr Zelensky, the comedian elected President of Ukraine, to go from the set of his sitcom in Kyiv to the biggest political drama in the world, the one in which an American President may wind up getting impeached.

The Democrats have cast Zelensky as the victim of President Donald Trump’s abuse of power, even as Republicans treat him as the witness key to proving Trump’s innocence. Neither role is anywhere close to what Zelensky imagined for himself when he announced his run for the presidency on New Year’s Eve, although he knew the job would be tough if he won, and often very unpleasant. Ukraine has been at war with Russia for the past five years, and his priority as President would be to stop that war from taking any more lives—a toll that is now more than 13,000 and counting.

That task would mean confronting Vladimir Putin, the Russian President who first ordered his troops into Ukraine in 2014. But Zelensky also wondered early on about Trump and the challenges of working with him. “What’s he like?” he asked me when we first met in March, backstage at his comedy show, which he was using to promote his run for Ukraine’s highest office. “Normal guy?” Wedged between the mirror and the costume rack inside his dressing room, the 41-year-old seemed confident, even cocky, in planning to

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