Volodymyr Zelensky, whose only previous political role was playing the president on television, trounced incumbent Petro Poroshenko by taking 73% of the vote, according to exit polls conducted by several think tanks.
Haaretz The comedian is slated to become Ukraine’s first Jewish president, making his country the only one outside of Israel to have both a Jewish president and prime minister.
Zelensky was born in 1978 to Jewish parents in Krivyi Rih, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city in southern Ukraine. He left to pursue a career in show business; in 2003, he and two friends from his hometown founded the film studio Kvartal95 in the capital, Kiev.
i24 News Poroshenko lost to the television star across all regions of the country, including in the west where he traditionally enjoyed strong support. It was an extraordinary outcome to a campaign that started as a joke but struck a chord with voters frustrated by poverty, corruption and a five-year war that has claimed some 13,000 lives.
The 41-year-old star of TV series “Servant of the People” will now take the helm of a country of 45 million people beset by challenges and having run on the vaguest of political platforms. After taking the most votes in last month’s first-round election, Zelensky had enjoyed a strong lead over the 53-year-old Poroshenko going into Sunday’s poll.
Voting earlier in the capital Kiev, the beaming front runner had said his campaign managed to bring Ukrainians together. “We have united Ukraine,” he said, wearing a casual suit with a t-shirt and accompanied by his wife. “Everything will be all right.”
Zelensky’s victory opens a new chapter in the history of a country that has gone through two popular uprisings in the last 20 years and is mired in a conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the east. His supporters say only a fresh face can clean up Ukraine’s politics and end the separatist conflict.