Zelenskyy Receives JFK Profile in Courage Award amid Russian Invasion: 'Doing the Impossible Every Day'

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of late President John F. Kennedy said Zelenskyy had "inspired the world," making him one of the few international officials to be given the annual award

Caroline Kennedy; Volodymyr Zelensky
Caroline Kennedy (left), Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Photo: DNCC/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is among the five recipients to be awarded with the JFK Profile in Courage Award this year. Though not in attendance at Sunday's event, Zelenskyy — who remains in Ukraine while the Russian invasion of his country rages on — was honored Sunday night, with Caroline Kennedy delivering remarks about his courage and bravery.

The daughter of late President John F. Kennedy said Zelenskyy had "inspired the world," making him one of the few international officials to be given the annual award.

"In a few exceptional cases when their political courage has inspired the world, we have given the Profile in Courage Award to an international elected official—and tonight is one of those," Kennedy, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 2013 until 2017 and was recently confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Australia, said at the Sunday evening ceremony. "President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine is doing the impossible every day."

She continued: "His courage and his defense of democracy is reminding us all of what is most precious and fundamental to our way of life. His bravery and courage are only exceeded by that of the people of Ukraine—and they are unifying the world, including Americans, to fight for freedom and the rule of law."

Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Ukraine to the United States Yaroslav Brisiuck was on hand to accept the award on Zelenskyy's behalf.

The honor was created in 1989 by former President John F. Kennedy's family to recognize "a public official (or officials) at the federal, state or local level whose actions demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership in the spirit of Profiles in Courage, President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes a speech on evaluation the 22nd day of the Russia-Ukraine war during virtually addressing in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 17, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ukrainian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Zelenskyy, 44, has became an overnight wartime hero to many in recent weeks and months, as Russia invaded Ukraine.

His selfie videos from the capital, vowing to continue the fight, quickly went viral. As did his rebuff of a U.S. offer to evacuate him from danger, when he declared, "I need ammunition, not a ride."

Prior to taking office in May 2019, Zelenskyy was known for doing comedy sketches, serving as a producer and starring in movies.

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Now, though, he's more well-known for being the face of Ukraine's resistance to the Russian invasion.

Speaking to Time in April, Zelenskyy — who has two children, 17-year-old Oleksandra and 9-year-old Kyrylo, with Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska — acknowledged that he has become a "symbol," adding that the attention is why he has been so steadfast about remaining in the country.

"You understand that they're watching," he tells the outlet. "You're a symbol. You need to act the way the head of state must act."

Meanwhile, Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched their large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but in addition to the civilian deaths, which are difficult to determine amid the fighting, more than 4 million have fled the country as refugees — and half are children, according to the United Nations. Millions more have been displaced inside Ukraine.

The invasion, ordered by Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces amassed in the region, various countries are offering aid or military support to the resistance. Zelenskyy has called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Russian President Vladimir Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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