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Ukraine full results: president’s party has solid majority

July 26, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Full results from Ukraine’s parliamentary election Friday gave the party of the country’s president 254 of the 424 seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The Central Elections Commission issued the final tally from the July 21 election that showed the Servant of the People party winning a sizable majority.

The party takes its name from the television sitcom that propelled its star, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, into the presidency. When Zelenskiy took office in May, the Rada was dominated by his opponents and he called early elections in hope of getting a majority.

None of the new Servant of the People lawmakers has previous experience in parliament. The Interfax news agency reports the party is ordering them to attend a week of intensive economics instruction. A Russia-friendly party led by a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin placed a distant second in the election. Three other parties tallied enough votes to obtain parliament seats.

Ukraine president’s party buoyed by exit poll after election

July 21, 2019

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s party was headed to win the biggest share of votes in the Ukraine’s snap parliamentary election, according to an exit poll Sunday, but it was unclear if the party nailed down a solid majority in the legislature.

The poll of 13,000 voters showed Servant of the People getting 43.9% of the vote for party-list candidates, far ahead of rivals. But 199 of the 424 seats being filled were for single constituencies, which the poll didn’t assess.

Overall, five parties cleared the 5% threshold necessary to get party-list seats, according to the poll. In all, the parties got less than 80% of the overall vote, suggesting that Zelenskiy’s party was likely to win a majority of the party-list seats.

The vote count was proceeding slowly, with less than 1% of the polling stations’ results tallied 3 ½ hours after voting ended. Nonetheless, Zelenskiy was buoyed by the exit poll’s findings. “This shows great trust by the people of Ukraine to our party,” he said.

He said “the main priorities for us and for every Ukrainian are the stopping of war, the return of our prisoners and victory over the corruption that remains in Ukraine.” Zelenskiy, who took office in May, called the election three months ahead of schedule because the parliament was dominated by his opponents. He is seeking a majority that would support his promised fight against Ukraine’s endemic corruption and for other reforms.

His Servant of the People party is named after the television comedy in which he played a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president. After voting, Zelenskiy said one of the new parliament’s first tasks should be to consider lifting parliament members’ immunity from prosecution.

A party led by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest associates, tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, was in second with 11.5% of the vote, according to the exit poll. It was followed by the European Solidarity party of former President Petro Poroshenko, whom Zelenskiy defeated in a landslide in the country’s spring presidential election.

Zelenskiy’s party intends to continue a pro-Western course toward joining the European Union and NATO, combining this with economic reforms and an intensified fight against endemic corruption. “With Zelenskiy, a new political team should come into politics that will continue the reforms that Poroshenko spoke about beautifully but did not do,” 35-year-old lawyer Viktor Shumeiko said at a polling station in Kiev.

Medvedchuk says Ukraine’s proper course is to improve its relations with Moscow, which plummeted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for Russia-backed separatists fighting government troops in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Dmitry Rushailo, a 57-year-old doctor voting in Kiev, agreed. “The Kremlin will stop the war if Medvedchuk comes into power,” he said. “Half the country speaks Russian, but neither the old or new authorities listen to us. Why should we have the EU and NATO if the war doesn’t stop and we become poorer?”

Medvedchuk proposes that Ukraine grant autonomy to rebel areas in the east and offer amnesty to the separatists. He said Ukraine could get a 25% discount on natural gas imports from Russia if it takes steps that satisfy the Kremlin.

Since Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, his statements likely reflect Kremlin thinking. Medvedchuk and the Russian leader met Thursday in St. Petersburg. Dmytro Razumkov, head of Zelenskiy’s party, said it is ready to negotiate with Russia on mechanisms for conflict resolution and seeks peace in the east “but not at any cost.”

“What Medvedchuk says is not a strategy for returning territories, not a strategy for ending the war,” he said. The exit poll, conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology and the Razumkov Center think-tank, had a margin of error of 2.5%.

Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.

TV comedian Zelenskiy sworn in as Ukraine’s president

May 20, 2019

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Television star Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been sworn in as Ukraine’s next president after he beat the incumbent at the polls last month. The ceremony was held at Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on Monday morning.

Zelenskiy ditched the idea of a traditional motorcade and walked to the parliament through a park packed with people. Flanked by four bodyguards, he was giving high-fives to some of the spectators and even stopped to take a selfie with one of them.

Zelenskiy, a popular comedian with no political experience, overwhelmingly won the presidential election against incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a victory that reflected Ukrainians’ exhaustion with politics-as-usual.

Rumors about Zelenskiy’s potential bid first surfaced when he played the Ukrainian president in a television show several years earlier.

Will Ukrainian comedian be any match for Vladimir Putin?

April 22, 2019

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election has thrust a comedian and political novice into the middle of the most dangerous flashpoint between Moscow and the West since the end of the Cold War.

Whether Zelenskiy is any match at all for Vladimir Putin, a canny and ruthless KGB veteran who has led Russia for nearly 20 years, remains to be seen. Zelenskiy, who played an accidental president in a hugely popular sitcom but has no real political background, has vowed to keep Ukraine on its pro-Western course. At the same time, he has pledged to quickly reach out to Moscow to negotiate an end to the five years of fighting in Ukraine’s industrial east against Russian-backed separatists, a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Arkady Moshes, an expert on Russia and Ukraine with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said the Kremlin may try to exploit Zelenskiy’s lack of political experience. Moscow “can on the one hand offer him something and basically outplay him diplomatically, and on the other hand threaten Zelenskiy as an inexperienced commander-in-chief with the destabilization of the situation in the east,” he said.

With nearly all ballots counted in Sunday’s election, the 41-year-old Zelenskiy won 73% of the vote to President Petro Poroshenko’s 24%, reflecting disillusionment with the old elite amid economic woes, deep-seated corruption and the war.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and has fomented the fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland in a bid to maintain its influence in the country and keep the former Soviet state from joining the European Union and NATO. NATO doesn’t welcome nations with unsettled territorial conflicts.

The question is whether Zelenskiy will have any more success than his predecessor in halting the hostilities. “Everything will depend on Putin — whether the Kremlin will continue to use the conflict in the east to put the brakes on Kiev’s movement toward the EU and NATO,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta Center, a Kiev-based think tank.

Russia paid a steep price for its actions in Ukraine, with the U.S. and the EU responding with sanctions that have limited Moscow’s access to global financial markets and restricted imports of key technologies. The Kremlin may now be eager to engage in talks with Zelenskiy in the hope that a lull in the fighting will pave the way for the lifting of Western restrictions.

On the campaign trail, Poroshenko warned over and over that Zelenskiy could be easy prey for the steely Russian leader. But Zelenskiy could also face powerful resistance at home. A case in point: Zelenskiy has said he will push for implementation of the 2015 Minsk peace deal, the internationally brokered agreement that would enable Russia to maintain influence in Ukraine by allowing broad autonomy for the rebel east. But the Ukrainian public has made it clear it opposes any concessions to Russia.

“Any Ukrainian ruler’s room for concessions in the Russian direction is very limited,” Moshes said. During the campaign, Zelenskiy said he would continue efforts to join the EU and NATO but emphasized that becoming part of the alliance should be approved by a nationwide referendum.

Zelenskiy, who comes from Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east and spent years working in Moscow during his entertainment career, has many friends in Russia’s artistic community who were excited by his election.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev welcomed Zelenskiy’s election, saying, “There is still a chance for Ukraine to improve its relations with Russia.” Zelenskiy has also pledged to try to integrate people in separatist-controlled areas into Ukraine — a promise that contrasted with the policy of Poroshenko, who made it extremely difficult for those living in the rebel regions to get pensions and other benefits.

In addition, he has vowed to seek a quick release of Ukrainian prisoners held by separatists and Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia during a naval incident in the Black Sea in November. “I will do all I can to bring our guys back home,” he said.

Some observers speculated the Kremlin may release the sailors to create goodwill for future talks. Asked about that, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was noncommittal, saying the seamen have yet to face trial. They are accused of violating the Russian border, charges they deny.

Still, members of Zelenskiy’s team were vague on how he will proceed in trying to negotiate peace in the east. “There is no magic wand,” Oleksandr Danylyuk, a former finance minister who worked as campaign adviser for Zelenskiy, told The Associated Press. “We will proceed step by step.”

Along with the conflict with Russia, Zelenskiy will face a daunting challenge in trying to root out corruption and reverse a sharp plunge in living standards. While voters saw his lack of political experience as an advantage, observers warned that the reality could be different.

For one thing, Poroshenko’s party and its allies control the parliament, making it difficult for Zelenskiy to form his team and pursue his own course. “Zelenskiy’s approach is naive and romantic,” said Fesenko of the Penta Center, who predicted the president-elect will now face pressure from various political and business clans who will try to put their people on his team.

Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

Ukraine’s presidential vote pits comedian against incumbent

April 21, 2019

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Polls opened Sunday in Ukraine’s presidential runoff as the nation’s incumbent leader struggles to fend off a strong challenge by a comedian who denounces corruption and plays the role of president in a TV sitcom.

Opinion surveys ahead of the vote have shown 53-year-old President Petro Poroshenko trailing far behind comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reflecting public dismay with endemic corruption, a moribund economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country’s east.

Zelenskiy, 41, got twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round three weeks ago. Like his sitcom character, a teacher thrust into the presidency after a video of him blasting corruption goes viral, he has focused on fighting graft, riding the wave of public distrust of Ukraine’s political elite.

“I have grown up under the old politicians and only have seen empty promises, lies and corruption,” said Lyudmila Potrebko, a 22-year-old computer programmer who cast her ballot for Zelenskiy. “It’s time to change that.”

Poroshenko, a billionaire candy magnate before taking office, has relied on traditional political barnstorming, using sympathetic television stations to extensively cover his appearances. Zelenskiy, however, has largely stayed away from the campaign trail and eschewed interviews. He has run his campaign mainly on Instagram, where he has 3.7 million followers.

Poroshenko’s attempts to counter the challenger online have often been awkward, including a video that showed Zelenskiy being run over by a truck with a streak resembling a line of cocaine left behind. There is no evidence that Zelenskiy, a fitness fan, uses drugs.

The campaign was marked by fierce mutual criticism and a jockeying for dominance, wrapping up with Friday’s debate at the nation’s largest sports arena in which both rivals fell on their knees in a melodramatic moment to ask forgiveness of those who lost relatives on the eastern battlefront.

Millions of Ukrainians who live in the rebel-controlled east and in Russia-annexed Crimea are unable to vote. The incumbent campaigned on the same promise he made when he was elected in 2014: to lead the nation of 42 million into the European Union and NATO — the goals that look elusive amid Ukraine’s economic problems, pervasive corruption and fighting in the east. A visa free deal with the EU spawned the exodus of millions of skilled workers for better living conditions elsewhere in Europe.

Poroshenko also has boasted of his successful push to create a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from Moscow’s Patriarchate and pushed for a bill that would outlaw the Russian language, which remains widely spoken in Ukraine.

“Poroshenko has done a lot of good things for the country, creating its own church, getting the visa-free deal and taking Ukraine away from the empire,” said 44-year-old businessman Volodymyr Andreichenko who voted for him.

But Poroshenko’s message has fallen flat with many voters who are struggling to survive on meager wages and pay soaring utility bills. “We have grown poor under Poroshenko and have to save to buy food and clothing,” said 55-year-old sales clerk Irina Fakhova. “We have had enough of them getting mired in corruption and filling their pockets and treating us as fools.”

Zelenskiy, who comes from Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking east, has opposed the Russian language restrictions and mocked the creation of the new church as a campaign stunt. He has focused heavily on corruption allegations that have dogged Poroshenko and showered the president with questions about his assets during Friday’s debate. Poroshenko denies any link to an alleged embezzlement scheme involving one of his companies and a top associate.

Like Poroshenko, Zelenskiy pledged to keep Ukraine’s on its pro-Western course, but said the country should only join NATO if voters approve that in a referendum. He promised that his No. 1 priority would be direct talks with Russia to end fighting in eastern Ukraine that erupted after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

Zelenskiy’s image has been shadowed by his admission that he had commercial interests in Russia through a holding company, and by his business ties to self-exiled billionaire businessman Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a Poroshenko archrival who owns the TV station that aired the sitcom the actor starred in as well as his comedy shows.

“Both candidates stand for integration into Europe, both kneel to honor those killed in the war with Russia, both are linked to oligarchs,” 67-year-old teacher Dmytro Volokhovets said with a touch of sarcasm. “But Zelenskiy will win because he’s young and new.”

Just a few hours before polls opened, a court in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev heard a suit filed by a Zelenskiy foe who claimed that the actor tried to bribe voters when his campaign offered tickets to the debate and demanded that his registration be annulled. The court rejected the demand early Sunday.

Ukraine campaign heats up with new court, truck video

April 11, 2019

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president on Thursday ordered the creation of a special anti-corruption court in an apparent attempt to catch up with his challenger, who has taken a commanding lead in the presidential runoff race.

A poll conducted by the Reiting survey group found comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy with 61% support while President Petro Poroshenko had 24% ahead of a runoff set for April 21. The poll released Thursday was based on answers from 3,000 respondents and had a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points.

The 41-year-old comic actor, who plays the role of the nation’s president in a hugely popular TV sitcom, has never held political office. Zelenskiy’s popularity, however, reflects public longing for a fresh leader who has no ties to Ukraine’s corruption-ridden political elite and can propose a new way to settle the grinding five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has left 13,000 people dead since 2014.

He easily beat Poroshenko in the first round on March 31, garnering 30% of the vote, while the incumbent got just under 16%. Amid an increasingly heated campaign, Zelenskiy’s office on Thursday accused Poroshenko’s election headquarters of posting a video in which Zelenskiy is run over by a heavy truck. It said it perceives the video as a clear threat that warrants additional security measures.

Poroshenko’s campaign denied that it was responsible for putting out the video and Ukrainian police said they launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Poroshenko, 53, saw his approval ratings plummet amid Ukraine’s economic woes and a sharp plunge in living standards amid a conflict with Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014.

He has cast himself as a strong statesman capable of standing up to Russia, claiming that Zelenskiy’s lack of political experience will make him an easy prey for the Kremlin. But even though most of the world has rejected Russia’s annexation of Crimea, there are no signs that Ukraine under any political leader is getting the territory back.

Poroshenko also has been repeatedly accused of turning a blind eye to corruption. In addition, the exposure of a military embezzlement scheme that allegedly involved top Poroshenko associates as well as a factory controlled by the president has badly dented his popularity. Poroshenko has denied any links to the scheme.

In an apparent bid to deflect criticism, Poroshenko on Thursday signed a decree to appoint members of the High Anti-Corruption Court — a longtime demand of both the United States and the European Union.

“By setting up the Anti-Corruption Court, we are completing the creation of an independent anti-corruption infrastructure,” he said.

Ukraine comedian leads presidential election, runoff likely

April 01, 2019

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Early results in Ukraine’s presidential election showed a comedian with no political experience with a sizable lead over 38 rivals but far from a first-round victory, while the incumbent president and a former prime minister were close contenders to advance to the runoff.

The strong showing of Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Sunday’s voting appeared to reflect Ukrainians’ desire for new blood in a political system awash in corruption and a new approach to trying to end the war with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east that has wracked the country for nearly five years.

With 20 percent of the polling station protocols counted, Zelenskiy had 30 percent, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was a distant second with about 17 percent and Yulia Tymoshenko with 13, the elections commission said early Monday. The results were closely in line with a major exit poll.

The top two candidates advance to a runoff on April 21. Final results in Sunday’s first round are expected to be announced later Monday. The election was shadowed by allegations of widespread vote buying. Police said they had received more than 2,100 complaints of violations on voting day alone in addition to hundreds of earlier voting fraud claims, including bribery attempts and removing ballots from polling places.

Zelenskiy stars in a TV sitcom about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral and his supporters hold out hope that he can fight corruption in real life. “This is only the first step to a great victory,” Zelenskiy told reporters after the exit poll was announced.

“Zelenskiy has shown us on the screen what a real president should be like,” said voter Tatiana Zinchenko, 30, who cast her ballot for the comedian. “He showed what the state leader should aspire for — fight corruption by deeds, not words, help the poor, control the oligarchs.”

Campaign issues in the country of 42 million included Ukraine’s endemic corruption, its struggling economy and a seemingly intractable conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people since 2014.

Concern about the election’s legitimacy have spiked in recent days after Ukraine’s interior minister said his department was “showered” with hundreds of claims that supporters of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko had offered money in exchange for votes.

Like the popular character he plays, Zelenskiy, 41, made corruption a focus of his candidacy. He proposed a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of graft. He also called for direct negotiations with Russia on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“A new life, a normal life is starting,” Zelenskiy said after casting his ballot in Kiev. “A life without corruption, without bribes.” His lack of political experience helped his popularity with voters amid broad disillusionment with the country’s political elite.

Poroshenko said “I feel no kind of euphoria” after the exit poll results were announced. “I critically and soberly understand the signal that society gave today to the acting authorities,” he said. It is not clear whether he would or could adjust his campaign enough to meet Zelenskiy’s challenges over the next three weeks.

Poroshenko, 53, a confectionary tycoon when he was elected five years ago, pushed successfully for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than a branch of the Russian church.

However, he saw approval of his governing sink amid Ukraine’s economic woes and a sharp plunge in living standards. Poroshenko campaigned on promises to defeat the rebels in the east and to wrest back control of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 in a move that has drawn sanctions against Russia from the U.S. and the European Union.

Speaking at a polling station Sunday, the president echoed his campaign promises of taking Ukraine into the EU and NATO. The president’s priorities persuaded schoolteacher Andriy Hristenko, 46, to vote for him

“Poroshenko has done a lot. He created our own church, bravely fought with Moscow and is trying to open the way to the EU and NATO,” Hristenko said. Ukraine’s former prime minister, Tymoshenko, shaped her message around the economic distress of millions in the country.

“Ukraine has sunk into poverty and corruption during the last five years, but every Ukrainian can put an end to it now,” she said after voting Sunday. During the campaign, Tymoshenko denounced price hikes introduced by Poroshenko as “economic genocide” and promised to reduce prices for household gas by 50 percent within a month of taking office.

“I don’t need a bright future in 50 years,” said Olha Suhiy, a 58-year-old cook. “I want hot water and heating to cost less tomorrow.” A military embezzlement scheme that allegedly involved top Poroshenko associates as well as a factory controlled by the president dogged Poroshenko before the election. Ultra-right activists shadowed him throughout the campaign, demanding the jailing of the president’s associates accused in the scandal.

Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko both used the alleged embezzlement to take hits at Poroshenko, who shot back at his rivals. He described them as puppets of a self-exiled billionaire businessman Igor Kolomoyskyi, charges that Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko denied.

Many political observers have described the presidential election as a battle between Poroshenko and Kolomoyskyi. Both the president and the comedian relied on an arsenal of media outlets under their control to exchange blows. Just days before the election, the TV channel Kolomoyskyi owns aired a new season of the “Servant of the People” TV series in which Zelenskiy stars as Ukraine’s leader.

“Kolomoyskyi has succeeded in creating a wide front against Poroshenko,” said Vadim Karasyov, head of the Institute of Global Strategies, an independent Kiev-based think tank. “Ukraine has gone through two revolutions, but ended up with the same thing — the fight between the oligarchs for the power and resources.”

AP journalists Mstyslav Chernov in Kiev, and Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, contributed to this report.

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