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Truthful fiction

Ukrainian political comedy is both pithy and prescient


Truthful fiction
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Hilarious and devastatingly on-point, Servant of the People— the only Ukrainian show currently on Netflix—may be pure fiction, but a few sensational coincidences have given this 2015 political satire an eerie prescience.

With Volodymyr Zelenskyy playing the fictional president of Ukraine long before he became the real-life president, future historians will be stumped. Improbable as it sounds, the series—Netflix just released the second season—doesn’t just predict its country’s future leader but also in a way its fate.

“I’m the president of Ukraine!” says Zelenskyy as President Goloborodko during an imaginary encounter with long-dead Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible. Ivan assures him, “Soon we’ll free you,” to which Golo­borodko responds, “No thanks. We don’t need freeing.”

When Goloborodko argues Ukraine needs to take “a different path, our own path,” Ivan knocks him out. Knowing what we know now, we shudder. If only Russian President Putin had watched episode 23! Maybe then he would’ve noticed Zelenskyy’s fighting spirit.

There’s little to hate in fictional president Goloborodko—he eschews posh presidential digs to live with his parents, appoints his competent ex-wife and well-meaning friends to cabinet posts, and takes the bus to work. Earlier episodes have him cursing, often in Russian (twice in English), but by the end of the first season, the show is more restrained with foul language, violence, and sex.

Juliana Chan Erikson

Juliana is a correspondent covering marriage, family, and sexuality as part of WORLD’s Relations beat. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C., metro area with her husband and three children.


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