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The images of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the ground in Ukraine, as he helps his countrymen and women fight for their survival against the Russian invasion, are drawing a striking contrast with Russian President Vladimir Putin — who has remained largely out of sight.
The 44-year-old Zelenskyy has defied expectations that he would flee the country once it came under attack, and images and videos have emerged online of him still in Kyiv, rallying forces and winning praise internationally for his bravery in the face of the threat coming across the border.
“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” the former comedian said in a Saturday video posted to Twitter after he refused an American offer to evacuate the Ukrainian capital.
Zelenskyy said Saturday that fights were ongoing in many parts of Ukraine, but citizens are defending their “county, land” and “future” for their children.
“Zelensky’s image is positive both for Ukraine and for the rest of the world,” Rebekah Koffler, a Russian-born former U.S. intelligence official, told Fox News Digital. “Ukrainians see him as a wartime leader who is not afraid, he’s fearless, he is staying with his people and is ready to fight even at the risk of his own life.”
His Twitter feed, meanwhile, is filled with all the updates of his various calls with world leaders as he seeks to rally support to his besieged nation.
“Zelensky is doing what a president ought to do, he’s engaging with the world, he’s getting support from NATO members and non-NATO members,” Dan Hoffman, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, told Fox News Digital.
“He understands how to present himself and he understands how to make a pithy, really important strategic statement for the world,” he said.
This comes in stark contrast to Putin, who has mostly remained out of sight. The Kremlin has posted a handful of images of the 69-year-old president in recent days, including his visit to the construction site of the National Space Centre — but the photos are drastically different from the more kinetic shots of his Ukrainian rival.
Hoffman said it was “humiliating” for Putin to have Zelenskyy “kicking his a– on the leadership front.”
“That is delicious to me. If you’re looking for a silver lining in the dark clouds of war, enjoy Zelenskyy — the most unlikely guy in the most unlikely of circumstances — he’s not Winston Churchill, he didn’t grow up doing this, yet in the most trying times in his country’s history here he is stepping forward,” he said.
Koffler said Putin was not necessarily hiding, but is probably still not happy with the situation on the ground. She said the contrast with Zelenskyy might end up triggering a response from Putin of his own – although it is unlikely to be a like-for-like competition.
“He hates Zelenskyy and he kind of thinks it is beneath him to compete with him,” she said. “He might stage another exercise of some sort, like he just issued the change in nuclear forces status, so he might snap a picture of him authorizing something like that for propaganda purposes. But he’s going to put a more threatening connotation into that appearance”
But Koffler believes that Zelenskyy sticking around and becoming an international rallying point has damaged Putin’s plans. She also noted Putin’s fondness of Judo and how he has said it helps him see opponents’ weaknesses — but in this case it may have been him whose posture was disrupted.
“The fact that he was outmaneuvered by Zelensky’s posture might have thrown Putin off-balance,” she said.
Fox News’ Audrey Conklin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.