How Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s plain green T-shirt became an iconic message of defiance


Tthere could hardly be a simpler outfit.

A short-sleeved t-shirt in military olive green, sometimes with the symbol of Armed Forces of Ukraine. It often gets bunched up a bit as it digs into his biceps.

In the weeks before Russia invaded his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy typically wore a suit and tie when addressing the nation. He made sure to stand in his presidential office, usually with the Ukrainian flag in the background.

But as Russia’s forces have attacked city after city and attempted to encircle the capital, Kyiv, in recent weeks, the beleaguered president has donned a more modest guise, presenting an impressive image to the people he is addressing.

In speeches to the US Congress, UK and Canadian parliaments, and in video messages to his people, the 44-year-old leader has chosen to wear one of these green T-shirts, sit in a plain chair and speak from one artificially lit room reminiscent of an operations center or a bunker or a combination of both. There are no visual clues to reveal his whereabouts.

This week, Mr. Zelensky delivered a highly motivated speech to Congress, imploring members of both chambers to do more to help Ukraine, and in particular to enforce a no-fly zone.

He began by conjuring up images of the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that would lead the US into World War II and the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda.

“Remember Pearl Harbour, that horrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your skies were black from the planes attacking you,” he said through a translator.

When he closed, he was speaking directly to his US counterpart, Joe Biden, in English.

“I address President Biden: you are the leader of the nation, your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. To be the leader of the world is to be the leader of peace,” he said. “Peace in your country no longer depends only on you and your people. It depends on those who stand by you and those who are strong.”

Zelenskyy accuses NATO of being “hypnotized” by Russian aggression

Zelenskyi’s speech was greeted with a loud ovation and a warm reception, and the US said it could send more military aid to Ukraine, even as Biden and other NATO leaders fear imposing a no-fly zone will trigger an even more dangerous conflict with Russia could .

However, it also drew improbable criticism from an economist and stockbroker, Peter Schiff, who tweeted: “I understand times are tough but doesn’t the President of #Ukraine own a suit?”

Mr Schiff’s remarks were widely ridiculed by people who praised Mr Zelensky for inspiring his nation, with the President’s hands-on approach seemingly underscored by his sleeve being rolled up.

“He wears clothing that connects him to the armed forces without being militaristic and sends out a message that he’s focused on practical things,” said Rebecca Arnold, lecturer in dress history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London The Independent.

“The color is particularly important for this – the garments connect with everyday people and also make him a part of their fight, but the color and repetition of these clothes make them a uniform for his leadership and suggest he’s ready for action.”

She added: “He therefore communicates with the members of the government around him, but above all he connects with the people of his country and around the world through digital and traditional media. It is the visual and physical equivalent of his words – that the world must be united in action.”

Mr. Zelensky is not the first leader in time of war or conflict to send such a message with his attire.

Fidel Castro, pictured in 2005, invariably wore his uniform when he appeared in public


During the Second World War, Winston Churchill was photographed in his black Homburg hat while puffing on a cigar as if to say, “Carry on as usual,” even as bombs fell on London and German troops marched through Europe.

Addressing only his nation or the United Nations, Cuba’s Fidel Castro wore his military garb with ornate epaulettes as if to remind the world of his revolutionary honesty.

After September 11, 2001, while visiting the smoldering debris of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan, George W. Bush used a firefighter’s loudspeaker to announce, “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you. And the people who tore down these buildings will all hear us soon.”

And for decades, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar invariably wore a pressed silk Longexuding a sense of calm, graceful defiance as she was led away by the junta’s generals.

“Clothing reflects our emotions, passions and goals. In a broader sense, they can make a statement about the state of our culture. The smartest leaders understand that what they wear can speak for them and send a message stronger than speech,” said Hildy Kuryk, former communications director of Fashion Magazine and founding partner of Artemis Strategies.

“Although clothing is often discussed at greater length in the analysis of women executives, the art of ‘appearance’ is gender neutral and universal. President Zelenskyy sends a clear message that he is embedded in this war and that no figurehead hovers over it. He is fighting and determined to stay with his people, no matter the risk.”

She said that unlike other leaders in history who have disguised themselves to signal that they are allied with their military, Mr. Zelensky “knows that the fighters in Ukraine are the people of Ukraine. With each day that passes, President Zelensky shows solidarity with them – the ordinary people who woke up one day and were forced by circumstances to be defenders of their homeland or refugees abroad.”

The appearance of Mr. Selenskyj seems to have left an impression on his interlocutors in recent weeks. It was widely reported that when he spoke to EU leaders just days after invading his country, they were deeply touched by his plight.

“This could be the last time you see me alive,” he told them.

The power of his words and the apparent seriousness of the situation made the audience shudder. Within hours, capitals across Europe—along with the United States—coordinated sanctions against Vladimir Putin far more stringent than had ever been contemplated.

Things that seemed impossible to resolve, like excluding Russia from the Swift banking system, were quickly agreed. Personal sanctions were imposed on Mr. Putin.

What’s more, Germany, which had an important relationship with Moscow, had already suspended its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 gas project. Then German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Berlin would spend 100 billion euros ($113 billion) on a major build-out of its military.

The plight of Ukraine and its President was also noticed by the real world of fashion.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi greets her supporters in Yangon after her release in 2010


Earlier this month Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s Georgian-born creative director, dedicated the fashion house’s 2022-23 winter show to Ukraine and the millions of refugees fleeing the country.

Email onlinereported that a note was left in every seat at the company’s last show in Paris, saying that while “fashion week feels like some sort of absurdity,” canceling the show would have meant “indulging in the evil that already made me feel so.” very hurt almost 30 years”.

Mr Gvasalia, 40, fled Georgia in 1993, aged just 12, as the country was experiencing a violent civil war. He later lived in Ukraine and Russia before moving to Germany.

“The war in Ukraine unleashed the pain of a past trauma that I have carried since 1993 when the same thing happened in my home country,” he told reporters backstage.

Is Mr. Zelensky’s decision to wear the t-shirt well thought out?

“I think it’s intentional,” said Courtauld’s Rebecca Arnold. “Even though it didn’t start out that way, the repetition of some key pieces of clothing sends a clear message that his focus isn’t on his attire, and this is sort of an informal uniform.” How Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s plain green T-shirt became an iconic message of defiance

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