Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has promised his country’s people he will not disappoint them after winning the presidential election.
Mr Zelenskiy said after a poll of voters in a run-off election on Sunday suggested his overwhelming victory that his apparent win could be a model for other ex-Soviet states that want to move beyond ossified politics.
He said: “While I am not yet president, I can speak as a citizen of Ukraine: To all the countries of the former Soviet Union, look at us. Everything is possible.”
The exit poll indicated Mr Zelenskiy trounced incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.
The comedian had the support of nearly three-quarters of the voters surveyed.
Mr Zelenskiy said after the poll results were released on Sunday night: “I promise, I will never let you down.”
Mr Poroshenko conceded defeat in the election for the country’s top post.
Shortly after exit polls showed Mr Poroshenko getting only a quarter of the vote in Sunday’s runoff election, he said he was willing to help Mr Zelenskiy transition into the presidency.
Mr Zelenskiy plays a high school teacher who is elected Ukraine’s president on a TV series, but has never held political office.
Mr Poroshenko said: “I am leaving office, but I want to firmly underline that I am not leaving politics.”
Although Mr Zelenskiy was criticised for a vague campaign platform and having never held public office, voters appeared to have cast aside those concerns in favour of a thorough sweep of Ukraine’s political leadership.
“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 Mr Zelenskiy.
“It’s time to change that.”
Mr Poroshenko was a billionaire confectionery magnate and former foreign minister before he took office in 2014 after massive street protests drove his Russia-friendly predecessor to flee the country.
Although he instituted some reforms, critics said he had not done nearly enough to curb the country’s endemic corruption.
Millions of people living in the rebel-controlled east and in Russia-annexed Crimea were unable to vote.
Mr Zelenskiy said his first job as president is to secure the release of military prisoners held in separatist eastern Ukraine and in Russia.
He told reporters on Sunday: “Task number one for us is the return of all prisoners, all war hostages, our sailors.”
Two dozen Ukrainian sailors have been held in Russia since November, when the Russian coast guard captured three Ukrainian naval vessels as they passed through the Kerch Strait between mainland Russia and Russia-annexed Crimea.
Russia seized Crimea in 2014 in a move that Ukraine and almost all of the world views as illegal.
Fighting in the east that erupted that same year after the Russian annexation has killed more than 13,000 people.
- Press Association