Amid Russia’s unrelenting invasion of his nation, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is “boldly (risking) everything to save the dream of human self-determination,” said the president of a local Catholic college.

Dr. Jonathan Peri of Manor College in Jenkintown conferred the school’s first honorary doctorate on Zelenskyy during the school’s May 12 commencement ceremony.

Accepting the degree on behalf of Zelenskyy was Iryna Mazur, honorary consul for Ukraine in Philadelphia, who said her native country “has been defending the principles that the entire democratic world seeks to protect: peace, freedom and democracy.”

In the process, Zelenskyy “has demonstrated outstanding courage, integrity and resilience,” she said.

Manor joined 26 other American colleges and universities in awarding such degrees as part of “a national movement,” said Peri, who denounced “the death and destruction caused by Russia’s attack” on Ukraine as “an abomination to humanity.”

In addition to Manor, Zelenskyy is receiving degrees from Alvernia University, Arcadia University, Chatham University, Duquesne University, Gratz College, Holy Family University, Salus University and York College in Pennsylvania; Alfred University, Bard College, Canisius College, Cazenovia College, Dominican College, Elmira College, Hilbert College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Keuka College, Le Moyne College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Utica University and Villa Maria College in New York State; Adrian College and Siena Heights University in Michigan; Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina; and Shenandoah University and Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia.

Founded in 1947 by the Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great, a congregation of Ukrainian women religious, Manor has promoted its Ukrainian heritage through educational and cultural programs, and a month before the February invasion issued a statement of concern regarding the buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border.

Manor and the 26 other schools conferring the honorary doctorates on Zelenskyy are looking to communicate a shared message that “the civilized Western world will not stand by idly, and will not sit quietly, while a free democratic constitutional nation of the people is attacked and terrorized in the 21st century,” said Peri during his commencement address.

Manor College president Dr. Jonathan Peri confers the school’s first honorary doctorate, which was awarded to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a May 12 commencement ceremony. Accepting the degree on behalf of Zelenskyy was Iryna Mazur, honorary consul for Ukraine in Philadelphia. (Manor College)

Since Russia launched its Feb. 24 assault on Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and close to 14 million displaced. The invasion followed Russia’s 2014 military occupation and attempted annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and the backing of separatist states in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Discoveries of hundreds of civilian atrocities following the latest Russian occupation – including mass graves, summary executions and survivor accounts of rape and torture – have prompted a number of internationally-led criminal investigations. The nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have formally condemned the Russian campaign as genocide, while Zelenskyy has called for a Nuremberg-style tribunal to hold perpetrators accountable.

On May 13, Ukraine convened its first war crime trial since the February invasion, with a 21-year-old Russian soldier facing charges of killing an unarmed 62-year-old civilian on a bicycle.

Throughout the conflict, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of infants and children, Zelenskyy “has proven himself to be unlike many other world leaders … authentic, relatable and caring,” said Peri.

With Ukrainian forces hugely outnumbered by invading troops, Zelenskyy was reported to have immediately declined a U.S. offer of evacuation, saying, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Zelenskyy has worked to “(redefine) the 21st-century model of the economic and political coexistence of states,” as “the fundamental values of peace and freedom” are tested by “Russian troops vandalizing Ukrainian land and waging a genocidal war against the Ukrainian people,” said Mazur.

Elected in 2019, Zelenskyy had previously forged a successful career in film and television, producing 10 feature-length movies and winning dozens of awards while earning a degree in law from Kyiv National Economic University.

He foreshadowed his political career with a starring role in the 2015-2019 Ukrainian television series “Servant of the People” (Sluga Naroda), a satire in which a frustrated high school teacher is elected president after his rant against government corruption becomes a social media sensation.

Since taking office, Zelenskyy has sought to advance his nation’s growth as a democracy, despite ongoing Russian opposition to Ukraine’s 1991 independence from the former Soviet Union.

Over the last three months in particular, Zelenskyy has “exposed the evil and meanness of authoritarianism,” said Peri, who likened the leader to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“President Zelenskyy’s words are reminiscent of Dr. King,” said Peri. “Earlier this week (Zelenskyy) said, ‘There are no shackles that can bind our free spirit. There is no occupier who can take root in our free land. There is no invader who can rule over our free people. Sooner or later, we win.’”