Editors note: This is a speech Rachel wrote and presented for an Area 44 Toastmaster’s Speech Contest on March 13, 2022 . I think it needs shared.
Writing Your Story
by Rachel Turkiewicz Alexander
How many of you have been like me, obsessively checking the news on your phone and
your computer every chance you get? I know I have. Every time it seems the story arc for
our current reality has gotten as crazy as it possibly can get…. Come on … we still haven’t
quite finished the global pandemic, there is the damage from climate change, the fires and
floods, the fight for voting rights, Democracy reform, all the political discord and now talk
nuclear war has entered the picture?!
The problems in the world can seem overwhelming and very dark but
then you realize the power each of us has to make a difference. Sometimes one person can
literally change the world for both good and bad.
President Vlodomyr Zelensky
Yes, I’m talking about Vlodomyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine. Right before Russia
invaded Ukraine, the expectation was that if all the Russian troops and heavy military equipment
that were massed on the other side of the Ukrainian border, went into the country of Ukraine
that Russia was pretty much going to be able to roll right over them. Instead, Russia is facing
stiff resistance from the Ukrainian people and the whole narrative has changed, with almost the
entire world coming together to condemn the invasion and putting into place steep sanctions
and heavy penalties targeting Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs and supporting Ukraine as they
fight to save their country. When I originally gave this speech, it had only been a week since
Russian forces invaded the country of Ukraine. Now it has been eighteen days of the Russian
military bombing and shelling city after city in Ukraine, displacing 2.5 million people as they try to
flee to safety. What hasn’t changed during this time period is the belief of the Ukrainian people
in their country and the belief in their President and their government. President Zelensky has
been successfully making the case to the world about the importance of standing up to Putin’s
What makes a good leader
Watching this story, it made me think about what traits make up a good leader? One
essential trait is to communicate clearly. President Zelensky was able to calmly send clear
messages that the Ukrainian people did not want to go to war. By doing this he was able to
thwart the Russian disinformation campaign that Zelensky was a Nazi and that he was going to
attack the Russian speaking citizens in the breakaway region of Donbass. The message that
Putin had to go in to protect those citizens totally didn’t work. The Ukrainian people would not be
provoked into starting a war and denied Putin the spark he needed to invade so the Russian
Disinformation campaign failed. Instead, Zelensky’s calm clear messages were that while the
Ukranians did not want war, they would defend their Country and would not let the Russians try
to divide them by stoking fear. President Zelensky has been using his communication skills to
keep his fellow citizens and the world updated and to not let his country’s plight be ignored.
Since the invasion began, more than one million people have protested the war in over two
hundred cities across the globe. In some of the rallies in Europe, Zelensky was able to speak
to the protestors on an enormous screen. Talk about good communication skills!
Leading by example
Leading by Example is another important trait of a good leader. Once the invasion started and
the tanks, the bombs, the soldiers, the mecernary soldiers with the assignment to assinate
President Zelensky and his family and the all of the members of the government, most people
would try to get out. President Zelensky and his government officials have all stayed in Kiev.
The United States offered to try and help him leave but he said “I need ammunition not a ride!”
His example has inspired his people and people around the world. Ordinary Ukrainian citizens
have been defending their country. Some with weapons, others learning how to create molotov
cocktails from bottles, and still others are confronting the Russian soldiers with their words and
their bodies to try to stop the tanks from progressing.
Being passionate in your beliefs is another important trait. No one who has listened to
President Zelensky or seen the footage of the Ukrainian people doubts their passion. Instead of
a quick invasion from an overpowering military, ordinary citizens of all ages have been joining
together to fight back in whatever ways they can. Whether it is to tell heavily armed Russian
soldiers, like one Grandma did, to put sunflower seeds in their pocket so when you die here in
Ukraine, and you will die here … the flowers will grow. Or having captured Russian soldiers call
their parents so soldiers can tell their parents that Putin sent them to invade a country that does
not want them or war. Ukrainian farmers with tractors have been remarkably successful in
recovering Russian military equipment that were abandoned due to being out of gas, stuck in
the mud or broken down. Seeing photos of huge tanks, pantsirs, and other massive military
equipment being hauled away by Ukrainian farmers on tractors has been quite something!
President Zelenskyy said on Thursday during his address to his fellow countryman : “Our
military managed to replenish its arsenal due to the many pieces of equipment it took on
the battlefield. Enemy tanks, armored vehicles, ammo will now work for our defense. What
could be more humiliating for the invaders? We’ll beat the enemy with its own weapons.”
Imagine if all of us recognized the power we have to make a difference.
Be a leader
All of us have the ability to become a good leader, to communicate clearly, to lead by example and be passionate
in what we believe in and by doing this we too can help write our narrative to make the world a
better and hopefully safer place for all of us. To quote Zelensky talking to his people, I admire
each of you. The whole world admires you – Today, you Ukranians are the symbol of invincibility.
The symbol that people in any country can become the best people on earth at any moment.
Zelensky today: “You are asking me how’s the situation on
the front line … there’s a front line everywhere. A few small
towns just don’t exist anymore. And this is a tragedy. They
are just gone. And people are also gone. They are gone
forever. So we are all on the front line.“
Rachel Turkiewicz Alexander is a classical violist who teaches elementary strings and middle school orchestra in Maryland.