Their Darkest Hour

Published: March 8, 2022

By Jim Lichtman
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While many have compared Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to England’s Winston Churchill– England’s wartime prime minister who inspired the British people in their darkest hour–another man became a different kind of hero in the face of overwhelming odds.

Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton inspired his group of volunteers who faced the impossible task of crossing the Antarctic continent by land. While Shackleton’s attempt failed, he remains an extraordinary example of courage, resolve and endurance. In fact, Endurance was the name of Shackleton’s ship.

Endurance is also emblematic of the Ukrainian people and its hero-president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The comedian turned head of state continues to rally support from both outside and inside his country, inspiring Ukraine’s citizens to action in the face of overwhelming odds.

Zelensky shares much with the famed explorer.

Before setting out on his expedition, Shackleton placed an ad in a London newspaper to recruit a 28 member crew:

“Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small Wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

Facing bitter cold, constant danger and little chance of success from unprovoked Russian attacks, the Ukrainian president inspires his people to fight the invaders to their last breath, and in the case of Zelensky himself, that just may be the outcome.

In their book, “Shackleton’s Way,” Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell describe the leadership traits that apply to both men.

Honesty: “Shackleton made sure that his men had a realistic notion of their plight,” Morrell and Capparell write.

Zelensky continues to report the plight and fight of his citizens by social media and other outlets:

“I am here. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this.”

Loyalty: “Shackleton gave his men constant feedback, praising their efforts…”

Zelensky continues to praise his citizen soldiers much like the Minute Men from America’s revolutionary war:

“Our military is here. Citizens in society are here. We’re all here defending our independence, our country, and it will stay this way.” 

Caring: “Shackleton related to every person under him as a human being.”

“Those who are making heroic deeds in different areas protecting their country and have given their lives away for this,” Zelensky said. “They’re protecting your Europe and they’re greeting each other, wishing each other good health…. this is our heart, this is the heart of Ukraine, standing together against the evil.”

Responsibility: “Shackleton worked until the whole job was done.”

Zelensky: “As you attack, it will be our faces you see, not our backs.”

While the obstacles Shackleton and his crew faced were considerable, they pale in comparison to the daily life and death struggle of the Ukrainian people.

“Being a Ukrainian right now is a fight,” Rostyslav Zavhorodnii, a painter and art tutor said. “It is better to die than become a part of Russia.

To date, 1.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine to the welcome safety in Poland and Moldova. And those numbers are expected to quickly grow.

Despite Putin’s overwhelming military force, Russia’s dictator will face a more daunting challenge if and when he occupies Ukraine: “How do you control a country of 44 million Ukrainians who suddenly have something to believe in?” Zoya Sheftlovich writes in Politico. “And how do you keep your own people on board?”

Heroes shape our lives every day. With Democracy imperiled around the world, now is the time for all of us to stand together against the world’s growing authoritarianism.

On this week’s cover of TIME magazine are the words President Zelensky spoke to the world on March 1:

“Life will win over death, and light will win over darkness.”

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