It is an absurdist adventure comedy scenario that I wish I had written: actor/comic Volodymyr Zelenskieiy is famous in Ukraine for his role on the television series Servant Of The People where he plays a history teacher who wins the Ukrainian Presidency in a stunning upset, plus cross cut to the additional irony that the USA also has a television star as President. More Meta!
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe with a population of about 42.5 million (about the same as California). Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded in 2014. Including Crimea, Ukraine is the largest country entirely within Europe.
Zelenskiy had zero political experience other than playing the role of a president on television when he won his landslide victory in Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential election with over 73% of the vote.
The incumbent, Petro Poroshenko conceded defeat on Sunday evening before results even started coming in.
Zelenskiy gave a press conference at his campaign headquarters as the polls closed, flashing his impish grin as he pushed his way on to the stage, accompanied by the theme music to his television series. He said he had received congratulatory phone calls Trump and handsome French president Emmanuel Macron.
In Servant Of The People, his teacher character is unexpectedly elected to the presidency after an angry rant about corruption is posted online by his students.
Ukraine faces numerous challenges, including a struggling economy and an ongoing war against Russia-backed separatist forces in the east part of the country that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
During the campaign, Zelenskiy never really mentioned his policies, instead he used viral videos, tweets and jokes in place of traditional campaigning. Like the fictional president of his television series, Zelenskiy promised to clean up politics and end the stranglehold of the oligarchy over Ukraine, but no details on how this would be done were announced. Zelenskiy and his campaign are cozy with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.
After voting in Kyiv, Zelenskiy was stopped by police for showing his ballot to the cameras. Displaying a ballot is illegal in Ukrainian. He was made to pay a fine.
Russian state television mocked the circus-like aspect of the campaign. On Sunday night, Zelenskiy said in his short victory speech:
As a citizen of Ukraine, I can say to all post-Soviet countries: ‘Look at us. Everything is possible’.
Servant Of The People is available on Netflix.