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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: What to know about the actor turned freedom fighter

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been called a hero and a symbol of defiance in the face of Russia's invasion.

Three years ago, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a comedian on a popular sitcom in which he played a high school teacher who becomes Ukraine's president.

Now, he's the president of the country and a face of defiance who is viewed as a symbol of strength by many Ukrainians in the midst of Russia's invasion.

Zelenskyy, 44, has been called a hero by many at home and abroad as he refuses to leave the nation's capital in Kyiv while Russian forces attack multiple cities around the country.

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His willingness to stay and fight has inspired many Ukrainians. He declined a reported U.S. offer of a safe evacuation despite grave personal danger as a target of Russian forces.

“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," Zelenskyy said on Feb. 26 in a tweet through Ukraine's British embassy.

Refugee agencies estimate that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have already fled into surrounding countries, but Zelenskyy has inspired others to stay and fight.

"He gives me confidence," a woman identified as Natasha told NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin in Ukraine on TODAY Monday. "For me, Zelenskyy is the real fighter for the democracy worldwide and for the peaceful future of our children and our world."

Zelenskyy said in a speech on Feb. 26 that he is not leaving the city.

“We have withstood and successfully repelled enemy attacks,” Zelenskyy said, according to NBC News. “The fighting continues in many cities and districts of our state, but we know that we are protecting the country, the land, the future of children.”

Here's what to know about Ukraine's president.

He was a comedian and actor for more than 20 years before getting into politics

Zelenskyy performed as a comic for more than a decade before he began acting in movies in 2008. He also did voiceover work, including the voice of Paddington Bear in the Ukrainian version of the movies "Paddington" and "Paddington 2."

Zelenskky competed on Ukraine's version of "Dancing with the Stars," and starred in the popular sitcom "Servant of the People," which ran from 2015 to 2019. Zelenskyy played a high school teacher thrust into a political career after his recorded rant against corruption in government goes viral. His character ends up winning the presidency.

The series was so popular that it spawned a political party by the same name of the show, which Zelenskyy joined in 2018.

Zelenskyy's acting roots and bravery were recognized by stars at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night.

"The president of Ukraine was a comic, and he was a wonderful comic performer, and we should respect that for him, and to come into the presidency, he’s amazing," actor Brian Cox said in a speech while accepting an award for "Succession" at the ceremony.

He won the presidential election in 2019

Just like his character on the show, Zelenskyy had no political experience before deciding to run for the presidency three years ago.

He won the election over incumbent Petro Poroshenko with 72% of the vote in April 2019 and said during his campaign that he would serve one term if elected.

He was entangled in President Donald Trump's first impeachment

Zelenskyy was a pivotal figure in the events that led to Trump being impeached in 2019.

A formal inquiry by the House of Representatives reported that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to try to influence Zelenskyy to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of political rival Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

A 2019 phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy was scrutinized after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified before Congress that he heard Trump make improper offers during the call. Trump was acquitted of the charges by the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Zelenskyy is a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors

The married father of two is the son of Jewish parents who lost family members during the Holocaust.

Zelenskyy has honored his heritage, announcing in 2020 that his delegation was giving up its seats at an event in Jerusalem so Holocaust survivors could attend, according to The Times of Israel.

"We learnt that many of the Holocaust survivors have not been able to visit the World Holocaust Forum," he tweeted at the time. "Our delegation gave them our seats, as many Israeli ministers did. These people deserve these honors most of all. We will participate in all events and hold scheduled meetings."

In the wake of the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pushed a baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine's government is a "Nazi" regime despite their president being Jewish.

“Take power into your own hands,” Putin said in a speech on Feb. 25. “It looks like it will be easier for us to come to an agreement (with you) than with this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis that has settled in Kyiv and taken hostage the entire Ukrainian people.”