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Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Zelensky debate each other during the election campaign

Zelensky’s day

Vladimir Zelensky is the new Ukrainian president. But who is the TV comedian who will run the scandal-prone country really?

Published: April 24, 2019, 7:15 am

    The Ukrainian state is trying to accept and get through the shock caused by the unexpected result of the presidential election. The winner, the 41-year-old Vladimir Zelensky – or Volodymyr Zelensky as in the Ukrainian form of the Slavic name – is the biggest surprise in Ukrainian politics: The winning candidate has never spent a single day as a politician before his nomination to the presidency.

    So what are the brief facts about the president of Ukraine?

    Vladimir Zelensky was born in 1978 in a town Krivoy Rog, in the central part of Ukraine, where he had a life of an ordinary Ukrainian boy. He received a thorough education but has never applied his learning. Since the 1990s, the only thing he did was to promote himself as a comedian and a showman.

    He became all the rage as a member of “KVN”, the abbreviation for the “Club of the Smart and the Cheerful” in Russian, an extremely popular post-Soviet era comedy TV show performed by students. He acted as the team leader for “95th Quarter”, winning the hearts of viewers with his wit and charisma.

    But that was not the only thing people liked about him – later on, when he became very popular and well-known, the author and ideologist of “KVN” Alexander Maslyakov offered Zelensky a job of an editor and a script writer for the same TV show, but on one condition – his team is not invited.

    Zelensky was outraged by this offer and declined it, but his refusal sparked a conflict between him and the powerful Maslyakov. As a result, Zelensky and his team left “KVN” and started making their own TV shows for the Ukrainian channels Inter and 1+1.

    To a great extent, everything that Zelensky produced for Ukrainian TV was successful and popular among both Ukrainian and Russian audiences. His various attempts at script-writing and acting in comedy movies were equally successful. Thus, Zelensky’s obvious achievements beg the question: Why would a famed and an accomplished comedian such as himself, enter into the dark realm of Ukrainian politics?

    The first hint of Zelensky aspiration for political activity was revealed in 2015, when he became a producer and main actor of the TV series “People’s Servant”. According to the plot, a history teacher Vasily Goloborodko (played by Zelensky) routinely loses his temper because of the never-ending challenges of daily life. His angry and often salacious responses, have become the fodder of comedy.

    In the story, a student of his class records his ranting monologue on a mobile phone, publishes it on the Internet, and receives millions of views. Goloborodko becomes very popular as a result and, yielding to the persuasion of his students, announces his candidacy for the presidential election. The next morning, after the elections, a motorcade headed by the Prime Minister arrives at an ordinary Kiev apartment. And thus a simple, divorced history teacher living with his parents, begins a completely new life.

    Back in 2015 no one believed that the plot of this TV show would become unbelievably prophetic. Of course, Zelensky is far from being an ordinary history teacher, but the current narrative involving his life after starring in the “People’s Servant”, is still quite impressive.

    In 2017 the lawyer of the media company “Studio Quarter 95” owned by Zelensky, registered a political party named after TV show – “People’s Servant”. For couple of years the media remained mum about it, but then suddenly unexpectedly broke the silence – on New Year’s Eve of 2019, when all other Ukrainian TV channels had been broadcasting the New Year’s appeal of the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, one of the main channels of Ukraine “1+1”, showed Zelensky announcing his presidencial aspirations.

    Ukrainians witnessed the outcome of this machination this week – Vladimir Zelensky won the presidential elections in the second round with a three-fold advantage ahead of the incumbent Ukrainian leader Poroshenko.

    Ukrainian society as a whole is currently trying to analyze and find reasonable explanations for this astonishing outcome. Nearly all of the theories include the role played by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky and his comprehensive support for Zelensky.

    Obviously, it would be most naive to believe that a comedian can win presidential elections just by relying on his own energy and resources. But another fact stands out – every candidate for the Ukrainian presidency featuring in the top 6 in the first round of the elections, has either been supported by an oligarch or is an oligarch himself/herself.

    This salient detail raises a legitimate question: Why was Zelensky chosen, a guy who has zero political experience and is known mostly for play-acting on TV screens? Would deep scientific research into the political, social, economic and psychological state of Ukraine during last 25 years suffice to explain the unexpected?

    One thing is clear however: Ukrainian people have become so tired and disillusioned by what they have had to endure from vicious and unscrupulous politicians and so eager for change that they are desperately ready to hand over their future to anyone except to well-known political figures.

    And will such an approach pay off with dark horse Zelensky as a knight in shining armor? Only time will tell.

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