A Ukrainian comedian, television star, and lawyer has won their presidential election with 73% of the vote. Volodymyr Zelensky will take office in June, having defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
Ukraine, since the fall of the Soviet Union and its own independence in 1991, has been torn between close ties with Russia or closer ties with Europe, NATO, and the United States. Most of its history since the 1990s has been played out against this backdrop of East vs. West. Interestingly, neither Zelensky nor Poroshenko advocated for close ties with Russia, a first in the country’s presidential elections. Indeed, a lot of their respective campaigns seemed like a contest to see who could distance themselves the most from Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Zelensky’s past statements indicate that he supports Ukraine entering the European Union and NATO.
Zelensky is the star of the TV comedy Servant of the People, in which an everyman gets himself elected as president of Ukraine. In 2018, his production company, Kvartal 95, created a political party with the same name as the series in an effort to support candidates who weren’t tied to the political elite. When Zelensky’s name came out on top in early polling, he decided to run for president. Similar to President Trump’s campaign in the U.S., he engaged with voters on social media and directly, often eschewing regular media interviews. Now, in a case of life imitating art, he has won his election.