by WorldTribune Staff, April 23, 2019
Before the April 21 vote, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky could always say “I’m not the president of Ukraine, but I played him on TV.”
Now – Zelensky can also say he’s the president of Ukraine.
Zelensky won in a landslide victory over President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s April 21 runoff vote.
Exit polls and early ballot counts gave Zelensky, a 41-year-old political novice, more than 70 percent of the vote, putting him on course for the largest margin of victory in a presidential poll in the history of modern Ukraine.
From November 2015 until March of this year, Zelensky starred in “Servant of the People”, a political satire comedy in which he portrayed Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, a thirty-something high school history teacher who unexpectedly wins election to the presidency of Ukraine after a viral video shows him ranting against government corruption.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) noted that, during the campaign, Zelensky had described his candidacy as “a simple man who has come to destroy this system,” in a reference to public perceptions that Ukraine’s politics and society are mired in corruption and nepotism against the backdrop of a draining five-year war against Russia-backed separatists.
Poroshenko, who conceded soon after an early National Exit Poll was released, had cast himself as the candidate capable of blunting Russian aggression. Only one Ukrainian president since independence, Leonid Kuchma in 1999, has won re-election.
“I want to say that I am very grateful to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who just congratulated me on my victory,” Zelensky said at a press conference shortly after polls closed in the April 21 runoff. “I thank him. He said that I can count on his help at any time. He acknowledged my victory and my team’s.”
“The absolute majority of Ukrainians again, just as they did five years ago, want radical political change. In that sense, this was a kind of Maidan — but an electoral one,” Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told RFE/RL, referring to the central Kyiv square at the heart of the 2013-14 protests that helped oust Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych and paved the way for Poroshenko’s election.
U.S. President Donald Trump had spoken with Zelensky by phone to congratulate him and to affirm “the unwavering support of the United States for Urkaine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”
Zelensky said his top priority as president would be to secure from Russia the release of all Ukrainian prisoners of war and other prisoners and pledged to “reboot” the Minsk process for resolving the conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine.
“Our first task is the liberation of our prisoners,” he said. “I will do everything to get our boys home. All our prisoners, without exception.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on April 22 that it was “too early” to say whether Moscow would be able to work effectively with Zelensky.
“It will only be possible to judge based on real actions,” Peskov said when asked why Putin had not yet congratulated Zelensky.
Russia’s state-dominated media, meanwhile, relished in Poroshenko’s downfall.
“Poroshenko’s term ends in disgrace,” presenter Dmitry Kiselyov, one of Russia’s most powerful media figures and head of state media behemoth Rossia Segodnya, declared in his weekly TV news roundup. “The country has degraded economically and ecologically, demographically and culturally.”
Ukrainians wanted “anyone but him,” Russian Federation Council deputy Konstantin Kosachyov wrote of Poroshenko in the government newspaper Rossiyskaya gazeta. “That’s not just sad for Poroshenko, but humiliating and shameful. And it serves him right.”
Olga Skabeyeva and Yevgeny Popov, the husband-and-wife duo who’ve targeted Poroshenko numerous times in recent years as part of their popular 60 Minutes talk show, noted that “We began abusing Poroshenko before it was even cool. Now, when Poroshenko’s effectively lost, everyone’s abusing him.”
Poroshenko “buried hopes for justice and a better life,” tweeted another upper-chamber lawmaker, Aleksei Pushkov. “Ukrainians never forgave him for that burial, and for the corruption, immeasurable lies, and hypocritical histrionics.” He added: “Finita la comedia.”