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March 20, 2019

Ukraine actor turned presidential frontrunner says politics 'not the movies'

Ukraine actor turned presidential frontrunner says politics 'not the movies'
'Zelensky's only previous political experience has been playing the country's president in a television show but says he wants to help people.  ' - By: AFP Sergei SUPINSKY

Ukrainian comedy actor Volodymyr Zelensky, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of this month's presidential vote, has told AFP that he is running to help the people of his war-torn country.

"This isn't in the movies, it's real life, but I really do want to help Ukraine... I want to help our people," said the 41-year-old, whose only previous political experience has been playing the country's president in a television show.

He spoke to AFP after filming the latest episode of the series "Servant of the People," where he plays a history teacher who has been elected president of Ukraine.

"If people believe in me and I want it myself, then maybe I can change something," he said. "At the very least, I can bring as many decent new people as possible into politics."

The popular actor and successful businessman has brought an element of surprise into the race, previously expected to be a duel between two veteran heavyweights: incumbent Petro Poroshenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to the latest opinion polls published this week by Rating Group, 25 percent of Ukrainians who have made up their minds will back Zelensky, far ahead of the 16.6 percent for Poroshenko and 16.1 percent for Tymoshenko.

Zelensky's supporters say he brings something fresh to the country's political scene, which has been discredited by years of in-fighting and corruption scandals.

Yet his detractors question his ability to lead a country of 45 million going through an armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists while also facing a very tough economic situation and ubiquitous corruption.

"No, I have no experience," he conceded, but stressed that he has "enough strength, enough energy."

"I don't have all the knowledge but I'm learning this now... I don't want to look like an idiot," he insisted.

"I have people around me who want to come and help," he said. "I think we can pull it off."

- 'Less words, more action' -

Zelensky, if elected, promises to move forward with the implementation of the Minsk peace process that is supposed to put an end to the war with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

He has been accused of being a "puppet" for controversial Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, with whom he denies any connection.

"My launch into politics is not linked to the wishes of anyone, including Kolomoysky," he told AFP.

He criticises the current authorities that came to power in 2014 on the back of the popular Maidan uprising and who -- according to him -- have completely "discredited" themselves.

"With these authorities, the country has no hope," he told AFP.

If the same authorities stay in power, the father-of-two said he "does not see the future of my children" in Ukraine.

Zelensky has accused the presidential administration of organising media campaigns to "drag him through the mud" and "secret services" of "wire tapping" Poroshenko's rivals.

He admitted that he will "probably regret" running for the presidency.

In an episode shot on Wednesday, the character Zelensky plays makes a speech in which he calls on Ukrainians to repay a "huge debt" to its international creditors.

Asked by journalists if he feels ready to make real presidential speeches, Zelensky said:

"The most complicated thing is not to make speeches, but to implement what you say. Less words and more action."

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