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Defying all expectations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has bravely led his nation in a fierce resistance against Russia’s unprovoked military aggression.
Zelenskyy has remained defiant, declaring to Russia and the world that he is staying put, providing a much-needed morale boost to his troops and citizens as they face invasion from one of the world’s largest militaries.
“Not hiding, and I’m not afraid of anyone,” Zelensky said in a social media post Monday evening from his presidential offices in Kyiv.
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Still, questions linger about Ukraine’s fate if something were to happen to Zelenskyy, who has reportedly survived three assassination attempts. Who, for instance, would take Zelenskyy’s place, and what would it mean for Ukraine’s fight against Russia?
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed to CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday that Ukraine’s government has a contingency plan in place if Zelenskyy is killed.
“The Ukrainians have plans in place – that I’m not going to talk about or get into any details on – to make sure that there is what we would call ‘continuity of government’ one way or another,” Blinken said, without providing further details.
The Ukrainian Constitution outlines that the speaker of the parliament succeeds the president if anything were to happen to them in office. However, the succession line beyond speaker of the parliament remains unclear. Complicating matters further is that Ukrainian officials have not publicly discussed succession, saying they want to focus on fighting.
Here is a look at some of Ukraine’s top leaders:
Ruslan Stefanchuk, Ukraine’s Speaker of Verkhovna Rada
Ruslan Stefanchuk, 46, is the Chairman, or Speaker, of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, a position he has held since October 2021. Before that, Stefanchuk was Zelensky’s representative in the Rada.
The New York Times described Stefanchuk as a “pro-Western politician and former top aide to Mr. Zelenskyy.”
Denys Shmyhal, Ukrainian Prime Minister
Denys Shmyhal, 46, has served as the Ukrainian Prime Minister since March 2020. His previous positions in government included Deputy Prime Minister – Minister Development and Territories of Ukraine and Governor of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast in Western Ukraine.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk previously described Shmyhal as “an excellent manager.”
As prime minister, Shmyhal was responsible for overseeing the Ukrainian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
Dmytro Kuleba, 40, has served as Ukraine’s Foreign Minister since March 2020. One of the youngest diplomats in Ukraine’s history, Kuleba in Ukraine’s foreign ministry for over a decade and worked to foster closer relations with Europe.
Kuleba has appealed to the international business community to cease operations with Russia. In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Kuleba said “history will judge each one of us later on how we faced” the threat of Russia’s “hateful expansionism.”
“Ukraine will prevail – light will win over darkness, as President Volodymyr Zelensky said,” Kuleba wrote. “We are holding our ground.”
Kuleba has also authored the book, “The War for Reality: How to Win in the World of Fakes, Truths, and Communities.”
Khrystyna Holynska, a professor of Public Policy at the Kyiv School of Economics, wrote in a piece for the Rand Corporation that Zelenskyy’s cabinet is likely keeping its plans for continuity of government secret to reduce the risk of a government collapse.
Zelenskyy vowed that Ukraine would fight Russia’s invasion in its cities, fields and riverbanks.
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“We will not give up and we will not lose,” he told Britain’s packed House of Commons via video, evoking the “never surrender” speech that Winston Churchill gave during the darkest days of World War II.