The National Constitution Center (NCC) in Philadelphia honored Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with the 2022 Liberty Medal Monday.
Zelenskyy was elected Ukraine’s president in May 2019 and has received international praise for his leadership during Russia’s invasion. The Center said Zelenskyy was selected for “his heroic defense of liberty in the face of Russian tyranny.”
In a prerecorded video message, Zelenskyy said the award “demonstrates how and what Ukrainian people are fighting for.”
“Liberty is the main word for us and what really unites all Ukrainians,” Zelenskyy said. “As in any democratic society, Ukrainians have different views on life and politics. As was the case in previous years, we fell divided, arguing whether we would ever be able to stand together. But when Russia decided to destroy our freedom, and wipe Ukraine off the face of the earth, we immediately got united, and we keep this unit. All divisions are put aside, there is no place for political conflicts, because when there is a mortal threat to freedom, everything else is not important.”
Jane Ferguson, a special correspondent for PBS Newshour was at Monday’s ceremony. She highlighted the courage of Ukrainians as they continue to defend their country.
“Young men, who just days before had been baristas, college students, lawyers, were now headed to the front line in fatigues — facing the might of the Russian army — knowing they were massively outgunned,” Ferguson said. “Young women signed up in record numbers, driving ambulances while coming under fire, working as front-line medics.”
“This leader, and the citizens of Ukraine, knew something that the rest of the world did not: That the Russians could be beaten, not with overwhelming firepower or waves of troops, but with character, heart, and faith,” Ferguson said. “They took what the world gave them, rummaged through what they already had, and pushed back the remnants of a once powerful army, showing the world that no empire can defeat millions of individual acts of people going about their daily lives and refusing to surrender.”
NCC President Jeffrey Rosen said Ukraine is working to defend a “liberal constitution, founded on separation of powers.” He was in Ukraine in 2014, when the new constitution was being written, which he said was drafted to “ensure a government of laws, not of one man.”
“But a liberal constitution and an independent judiciary alone can’t preserve liberty against the threats posed by illiberal tyrants like Caesar, Alexander, and Putin,” Rosen said.
“We’re here to celebrate the courage of the Ukrainian people’s democratically elected leader, President Zelenskyy,” Rosen said. “By providing a heroic example of what courage looks like when it is deployed in the defense of liberty, President Zelenskyy has inspired the world to support the Ukrainian people in their noble crusade. They must prevail and they will prevail.”
The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to mark the U.S. Constitution’s bicentennial. It is awarded to those who, “strive to secure the blessings of liberty for people around the globe.” Previous recipients include Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, Sen. John McCain, Rep. John Lewis, and Malala Yousafzai.
The award comes with a $100,000 prize. Zelenskyy said he plans to donate the money to a newly established Ukrainian Veteran Fund with the Ministry of Veteran Affairs of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy has received many awards including the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award and the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. He’s also received honors from the governments of the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia.