The votes are in! TV star Volodymyr Zelenskyy has won the country’s presidential runoff vote in a landslide. Zelenskyy received about 73% of the vote—while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko got just 24% support. But even with the huge victory, Zelenskyy has daunting challenges ahead.
One of the campaign slogans of the popular television comedian (see Actor Leads Ukraine Vote) was to unify Ukraine. The country has been torn by bitter debates over its identity as well as the conflict in the east fueled by neighboring Russia. But unlike in most elections in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, Zelenskyy appears to have won both in Ukraine’s west and east, areas traditionally split on most issues.
Now the man who’s played Ukraine’s president only in a TV sitcom will have to handle simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine and problems over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s pro-Russian region of Crimea.
Plus, Zelensky will have to face off against experienced Russian President Vladimir Putin if he wants to mend relations with Russia.
Zelenskyy, a Russian speaker from central Ukraine, has promised to work to re-integrate the eastern region of Ukraine back into the country. But he’s offered no details on how he plans to do that.
Yesterday, officials in Moscow sounded optimistic—but also a bit snooty—about Zelenskyy’s victory. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Facebook that the election results in Ukraine show “there is a chance to improve the relations with our country after all.”
Medvedev, whose government has been supplying the Ukrainian rebels with weapons and manpower, expresses hope that Zelenskyy would be “pragmatic and responsible” when tackling Russia supporters in the east.
(Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, makes the victory sign after seeing the exit polls for the second round of presidential elections in Kyiv, Ukraine. AP/Vadim Ghirda)