Ukrainians threw their overwhelming support behind comedian, actor and businessman Volodymyr Zelensky in Sunday’s presidential election, according to exit polls, choosing a political novice over five more years of Petro Poroshenko.
The 41-year-old political newcomer won 73.2% of the vote while incumbent Poroshenko won 25.3%, according to an exit poll from Ukraine’s state broadcaster Ukrinform. It was the second round of elections.
Zelensky’s rise to power is a testament to voters’ deep-rooted disappointment in the governing class, disgust over rampant corruption, and a flagging economy.
Prior to his bid for the presidency, Zelensky was best known for his role in the Ukrainian comedy series, “Servant of the People,” where he played a destitute schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine after becoming famous for an anti-corruption rant that went viral on social media. In real life, his entertainment empire is estimated to be worth tens of millions.
Art mirrored reality when Zelensky used that same platform to announce his bid for the presidency. On New Year’s Eve, he addressed the nation on the 1+1 channel, which broadcasts his show and is the country’s second most popular TV station.
Initially, support for Zelensky was largely seen as a protest vote, and his popularity grew as faith in Poroshenko floundered.
Poroshenko, who came to power in the aftermath of the 2013 pro-Western Maidan protests, ran on a militant patriotic platform, but it appears to have struck the wrong chord with a population exhausted from a 5-year proxy war with Russia.
Since Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian troops have been battling in the eastern Donbas region against Russian-backed separatists, who have received military support from Moscow.
According to United Nations estimates, the conflict has claimed almost 13,000 lives, with at least 3,321 civilian deaths.