Swedish agency deluged with bids for Ukrainian president’s hit TV series

First one, then two, then 20: a small Stockholm agency has in recent days been received bid after bid for the rights to air the hit comedy series starring Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former actor turned wartime hero.

Fredrik af Malmborg (R), Managing Director and Nicola Soderlund Managing Partner at Eccho Rights, a global rights management company.
Fredrik af Malmborg (R), Managing Director and Nicola Soderlund Managing Partner at Eccho Rights, a global rights management company. Photo: Jonatan Nackstrand/AFP

“It’s been very, very busy. All around the world, people have asked for the rights because they want to broadcast it,” explains Eccho Rights co-founder Nicola Söderlund in the agency’s elegant offices in the Swedish capital.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, broadcasters such as Britain’s Channel 4, Greece’s ANT1 and Romania’s PRO TV have rushed to join those who have already snapped up the rights to “Servant of the People”, which first aired in Ukraine in 2015.

“I think last week we made maybe 15 deals and we are in negotiations with another 20 countries,” says Söderlund, a poster advertising the series hanging above his desk. “The latest we heard of is Latin America, we’re discussing with the US, Netflix, we’re discussing with many.”

In Italy alone, three or four broadcasters are currently vying for the rights, while in Greece, the show is airing nightly on primetime.

“In a way, it’s an act of solidarity with the Ukrainians, and at the same time, of curiosity — you want to see who he is,” Söderlund says of Zelensky.

The president’s stature has soared on the international stage since the start of the invasion, impressing the world with his fearless determination in the face of the Russian onslaught. Söderlund first met Zelensky 10 years ago, when the Ukrainian was
developing a game show called “Crack Them Up” in which ordinary people try to make comedians laugh, a concept later sold to Vietnam, China and Finland.

“I went to lunch with him in Kyiv,” recalls Söderlund. “He had all these crazy and funny ideas”.

Pulling out his phone, he shows selfies of himself posing with Zelensky at the Cannes film market in 2016 — held alongside the famed film festival — where producers, distributors and buyers do business.

‘Needed a hero like him’

At the time, it was unimaginable that this “very funny comedian, very popular and loved by audiences” would go on to become Vladimir Putin’s main target and “this world leader who embodies and speaks for the whole nation”.

“We needed a hero like him, after Trump and all that,” Eccho Rights managing director Fredrik af Malmborg interjects.

With “Servant of the People”, life imitated art.  In the series, which ran for three seasons, Zelensky played a high school
teacher propelled to the presidency after a student’s video of him ranting about corruption in Ukraine went viral.

The show’s success propelled Zelensky to the presidency in real life. “He always said, ‘In the US they’ve had actors becoming president for a long time'”, af Malmborg recalls.

While the company hasn’t had any contact with Zelensky himself recently, Eccho has been in contact with some of his representatives.

“One has fled to Turkey and the other is in Rotterdam, but they are in contact with ‘Vova’, as they still call him”, af Malmborg says.

The details of the rights contracts being negotiated are confidential, but the rights cost “around a million euros”.

Eccho Rights also has another series produced by Zelensky in its catalogue, “Svaty” (“In-Laws”).

The company, which employs around 40 people in Stockholm, London and Istanbul, has donated 50,000 euros to the Ukrainian Red Cross and plans to donate more as more contracts are signed.

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Sweden sends anti-ship and anti-tank missiles to Ukraine

Sweden on Thursday announced additional aid of one billion kronor ($102 million, €95 million) to Ukraine, consisting of both financial aid and military equipment including anti-ship missiles and anti-tank launchers.

Sweden sends anti-ship and anti-tank missiles to Ukraine

“We are now seeing a new phase in the Russian invasion, where (Russia) is gathering strength in eastern and southeastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian side has requested help in several areas,” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told reporters at a joint press conference with Finance Minister Mikael Damberg.

Damberg said the Scandinavian country would contribute 578 million kronor to the Ukrainian central bank’s fund for its armed forces, 60 million kronor to Nato’s fund to help Ukraine’s armed forces, and military equipment worth 262 million kronor.

In addition, Sweden will contribute 100 million kronor for civilian efforts through the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.

According to a press release, the military materiel consists of Sweden’s anti-ship missile system Robot 17, which is a modified version of the US Hellfire missile system, as well as 5,000 anti-tank launchers and AG 90 assault rifles and ammunition.

“This is qualified equipment in line with what Ukraine has requested”, Hultqvist said.

In late February, Sweden broke its doctrine of not sending weapons to countries in active conflict for the first time since 1939, announcing 400 million kronor worth of military materiel and the donation of 500 million kronor to the Ukrainian central bank’s fund for its armed forces.

Sweden, along with neighbouring Finland, in May overturned decades of military non-alignment by submitting historic joint applications to join Nato, as support for membership soared in both countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.