Department of Political Science


The Zelensky Effect

26 October 2023, 6:15 pm–7:30 pm

A black and white image of the Motherland statue of Ukraine. Blue and yellow abstract circles appear in the background

Part of the UCL Policy & Practice seminar series.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Eleanor Kingwell-Banham


Malet Place, Engineering Building
Gower street
United Kingdom


With Russian shells raining on Kyiv and tanks closing in, American forces prepared to extract Ukraine’s leader. Just three years earlier, his apparent main qualification had been playing a president on TV. But Zelensky reportedly retorted, ‘I need ammunition, not a ride.’ Ukrainian forces won the battle for Kyiv, ensuring their country’s independence even as a longer war began for the southeast. You cannot understand the historic events of 2022 without understanding Zelensky. But the Zelensky effect is less about the man himself than about the civic nation he embodies: what makes Zelensky most extraordinary in war is his very ordinariness as a Ukrainian. The Zelensky Effect, by Professors Olga Onuch and Henry E. Hale, explains this paradox, exploring Ukraine’s national history to show how its now-iconic president reflects the hopes and frustrations of the country’s first ‘independence generation’.

Drawing on her new book 'The Zelensky Effect', co-authored with Henry E. Hale, Professor Onuch will tell the story of Ukraine through the journey of one man who has come to symbolise his country. She will be joined by Emma Graham-Harrison, Senior International Affairs Correspondent for The Guardian & The Observer.

Olga Onuch is Professor (Chair) in Comparative and Ukrainian Politics at the University of Manchester. A scholar of comparative politics of eastern Europe and Latin America, her work looks at the motivations driving citizens to vote, protest, and/or migrate, and factors related to their media consumption, as well as identity formation and policy preferences. In addition to The Zelensky Effect and her first monograph, Mapping Mass Mobilization (2014), her work has appeared in leading journals, and she regularly appears in international media outlets.

Emma Graham-Harrison is Senior International Affairs Correspondent for The Guardian & The Observer. In this role, she has reported extensively on Russia's war in Ukraine. Earlier, she spent more than a decade reporting from Kabul, Beijing and Madrid.

Chair: Kristin Bakke is Professor of Political Science and International Relations in the UCL Department of Political Science.

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