Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US Representative Liz Cheney were honored for their work in defense of liberty at this year’s John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award ceremony, presented Sunday evening at the JFK Library in Dorchester.
Former Staples chief executive Ron Sargent hosted the ceremony, which each year honors leaders from around the nation and the world who have demonstrated a commitment to protecting democracy in the United States and abroad.
Zelensky has garnered international attention for his leadership of Ukraine amid the bloody Russian invasion, giving a seemingly endless round of virtual addresses to his people and Western governments, encouraging his fellow citizens to remain steadfast in the face of Russian aggression, and pleading for more weapons from NATO members.
Yaroslav Brisiuck, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Ukraine, attended the ceremony to accept the award on behalf of Zelensky, who was at home continuing to address the Russian invasion.
“What is happening in Ukraine is not just about what’s happening in Ukraine,” Brisiuck said, likening the nation’s war with Russia to World War II and other threats to democracy around the world.
After thanking the US government for its economic and military support, Brisiuck turned his attention to his people.
“We’ve been holding our ground for 88 days, and for 88 days the whole world has seen the atrocities, the devastation … cities burned to the ground, schools, hospitals, churches,” he said. “But our spirits cannot be broken and we are determined to fight until we liberate our land.”
Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, made waves when she voted to impeach former president Donald Trump for his alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol in Washington. Last week, Cheney accused her party’s leaders of enabling “white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism” days after a gunman killed 10 people and injured three others in what authorities said was a racist attack on a predominantly Black community in Buffalo, N.Y.
On Sunday, Cheney called on Americans everywhere to stand firm in the fight for fair elections.
“The sacred obligation to defend the peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American president, except one,” she said. “At this moment we must all summon the courage to stand against that” threat.
“Will we put duty to our oath above partisan politics?” Cheney said. “I ask all of you to remember this sacred duty that is passed to us. … We are engaged in a battle. And with courage and clarity and wit, it is a battle we will win.”
After Americans saw striking threats to national democracy following the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the Jan. 6 attack, the awards committee selected an unprecedented five political leaders and public servants to honor for their work defending freedom over the past two years.
The ceremony usually celebrates one recipient per year, though a special edition of the award was created to honor the frontline heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic and presented to seven essential workers last year.
In addition to Zelensky and Cheney, the award was also presented to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers, and Fulton County, Ga., Election Department employee Wandrea’ ArShaye Moss.
As Benson entered the event, she told reporters that attacks on democracy “are occurring at all levels — local, national, and international — and we have to be willing to stand up to threats and bullies at all levels.”
“Democracy is on the ballot in this upcoming election, but I’m optimistic,” she added. “Work is required ... but the work is ongoing and the fight is ongoing because our democracy is hanging in the balance.”
A Republican and self-proclaimed supporter of Trump, Bowers accepted his award for resisting pressure from Trump and Rudy Giuliani to replace Arizona’s legal electors with a group working to elect Trump.
“To respect the people’s choice at the ballot box, even (or especially) when the result may be different from our wishes ... should not be noteworthy, much less praiseworthy,” Bowers said. “These decisions are the least that the people should expect of those to whom they entrust the power to choose for them.”