Ukraine President Zelenskyy's Original Staff Weren't Exactly Qualified For The Job

Just because someone is elected president of their country, it doesn't mean they will surround themselves with the most qualified people. In fact, the reality is often to the contrary. In the U.S., the members of a president's cabinet are not elected by voters but selected by the president, and those choices might not always be the most thoughtful. 

According to The Northeastern, when Donald Trump was elected in 2016 he assembled what many considered to be one of the least-qualified cabinets in U.S. history. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, for example, failed his college chemistry class and had a lackluster academic performance in university. He even once stated that he would abolish the Department of Energy if he ever became president. Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, did not attend any public schools, and had no experience with financial aid or management of higher education.

Though this shouldn't be the case, leaders often choose either close friends or political supporters as their advisors, over those who may be more qualified. This accusation has been leveled against Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Keeping your friends close

Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president of Ukraine in 2019, having previously (and ironically) played the role of president on a TV show called "Servant of the People." Upon assuming real-life office, he appointed several of his former TV colleagues to positions in his actual administration, per BBC. Serhiy Trofimov, for example, was a producer in Zelenskyy's Kvartal 95 studio, while Ivan Bakanov, who ran the studio, was appointed deputy head of Ukraine's SBU security service. Similarly, Serhiy Shefir, a former scriptwriter and producer at the studio, became Zelenskyy's chief assistant while in office. A studio co-founder and producer were also given jobs in Zelenskyy's administration, or as political aides.

According to Andrii Bohdan, Zelenskyy's ex-chief of staff, Zelenskyy makes political appointments based on personal sympathy and friendship, rather than actual qualifications (per Wilson Center). The president's party isn't alone in this practice, however. The Holos opposition party, established by singer Sviatoslav Vakaruchk, once nominated comedian Serhii Prytula to run for mayor of Kyiv.

'Servant of the People'

Since Zelenskyy's real political life paralleled his TV role so closely, it's perhaps not surprising that he sought to further blend the two worlds with his political appointments. According to The Washington Post, Zelenskyy created and starred in the show "Servant of the People" in 2015, which featured a high school history teacher who gets elected president of the country. The show ran for three seasons and became popular in Ukraine, and has taken on an even deeper meaning now that Ukraine finds itself embroiled in war with Russia — a conflict actually discussed on the TV show before it materialized in real life. 

On the show, Vasily Petrovish (Zelenskyy) becomes famous when a video of him delivering a passionate speech about government corruption goes viral. He is unexpectedly elected president, and arrives in office to find his administration filled with aestheticians, masseuses, zookeepers, and personal motivators — highlighting the excess of government. In light of the TV president's comically superfluous staffers, Zelenskyy's real-life appointment of entertainment industry colleagues assumes a whole new level of irony.