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The Grim Stagecraft of Zelensky’s Selfie Videos

By Megan Garber

28 Feb 2022 · 4 min read

The camera moves, but only a little. The man in the foreground, filming, wears a jacket of olive green. The men around him do too. Their expressions are grave. They stand close, arranged in the scrunched togetherness of the group selfie. If you happened to encounter their video as one of many across a feed—a group of guys, a bit blurry in thumbnail form, poorly lit against the night—you’d probably not realize what you were witnessing: a president and his cabinet, outmatched but outspoken, declaring their defiance in the face of an invasion. You’d probably not realize the deep significance of the refrain Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeats throughout the 32-second video that doubles as a state-of-the-union address: Тут—tут—tут. Here—here—here.

The video, shot late Friday in Kyiv, is most urgently a piece of evidence: proof that Zelensky and members of his cabinet were, as of its filming, still in Kyiv and still alive. Its footage testifies against the rumors that the president had fled his city and his country. He hadn’t. And, he keeps saying, he won’t. Statecraft, often, is stagecraft; Zelensky, who rose to prominence as an actor, comedian, and producer, understands that better than most. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the president into a performer of a different kind. Zelensky has been using videos, brief and self-shot, not only to document his continued presence in Kyiv, but also to rally his constituents to stay with him, and to fight. “This is our land, our country, our children,” he says in a video posted Saturday morning. “And we will defend all of this.”

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