Comedian has last laugh as he cruises to Ukraine victory
A comedian who plays a president in a television programme has turned art into real life by winning the Ukrainian election by a landslide, according to exit polls.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy (41) won 73pc of the vote, against 26pc for Petro Poroshenko, the 53-year-old incumbent elected after protests toppled a pro-Russian leader in 2014.
Mr Poroshenko congratulated his opponent shortly after the polls closed.
The story is remarkably similar to the hit show 'Servant of the People', in which a teacher played by Mr Zelenskiy is elected president on the strength of a viral video rant. A lack of reforms since the 2014 revolution has fuelled support for an outsider promising to fight corruption and leave after one term. Mr Zelenskiy easily won the first round of voting three weeks ago, albeit without a majority. But his campaign of comedy and social media videos has offered little insight into how he will achieve reforms with a parliament that is mostly allied with Mr Poroshenko.
"Thank you to all Ukrainians, wherever you are located. I promise I will never let you down," he told journalists and supporters.
"To all citizens of post-Soviet countries: Look at us. Everything is possible," said Mr Zelenskiy who betrayed his inexperience when he posed with his filled-in ballot yesterday, a violation of election laws.
Now the poorest country in Europe, Ukraine and its 42 million people stand at the forefront of tensions between Russia and the West, while fighting a low-level conflict with Moscow-backed separatists. Mr Zelenskiy has said he would meet Vladimir Putin and involve the UK and US in talks to solve the conflict, but also promised not to lift the economic blockade on the separatist-held areas.
An adviser to the Kremlin said a plan reported last week to give Russian passports to residents of these breakaway republics was meant as a test for the incoming leader.
Yesterday's vote ended a dirty campaign that culminated in a venomous debate at Kiev's 70,000-seat Olympic stadium on Friday evening. (© Daily Telegraph, London)