Jewish comedian overwhelmingly elected Ukraine’s next president
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Jewish comedian overwhelmingly elected Ukraine’s next president

Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes the reigns and vows to unite the country, which now has a Jewish president and prime minister

Volodymyr Zelensky, elected president of Ukraine in in 2019 (Credot: Kvartal95 official/ Wikipedia)
Volodymyr Zelensky, elected president of Ukraine in in 2019 (Credot: Kvartal95 official/ Wikipedia)

Jewish comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been given an overwhelming directive to produce change after collecting more than 70% of the votes in the Ukrainian election.

With nearly all ballots counted, he has 73% of the vote compared to incumbent President Petro Poroshenko’s 24%.

Monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election took place with respect for “fundamental freedoms” and set the stage for a “democratic and orderly transfer of power”.

The first-time candidate, who stars in a TV sitcom about a high school teacher who becomes president almost by accident, appeared to have won in both the west and the east, a rarity in post-Soviet Ukraine.

If Zelensky is sworn in as president, his prime minister — at least for a while and possibly until the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place sometime later this year — will be Volodymyr Groysman, a Jewish politician who was the mayor of the city of Vinnytsia.

Mr Zelenskiy campaigned on unifying Ukraine, which is torn by bitter debates over national identity and a bloody conflict with Russia-backed separatists.

More unusual to some, however, was how Zelensky appears to have won the elections so decisively in spite of how his Jewish ancestry – his mother, Rima, is Jewish, and he has jokingly referred to this during the campaign — is well known in Ukraine.

Zelensky, 41, whom the local media call “the Ukrainian Donald Trump,” portrays a history teacher turned accidental president in his hit television show “Servant of the People.”

Born in Kryvyi Rih, near Dnipro, to a Jewish family of scientists, Zelensky has not mentioned his Jewish identity often in interviews before or during the campaign, which critics say is purposefully vague.

The separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea are likely to dominate the agenda of a leader with no previous political or government experience.

Mr Zelenskiy, a Russian speaker from central Ukraine, vowed to step up efforts to bring the east back under Kiev’s wing but offered no details on what that entailed.

His campaign adviser, Oleksandr Danylyuk, said the new leader’s team “does not have a magic wand” to deal with the issue of the occupied territories but favours jump-starting talks with Russia via European mediators.

The president-elect’s advisers also reject the idea of the Ukrainian government using force to regain control of the east and of Crimea, Mr Danylyuk said.

Russia seized Crimea in 2014 in a move that Ukraine and almost all of the world views as illegal.

Mr Zelenskiy will also have to face off against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has ruled his country for nearly two decades, if he wants to mend relations with Moscow.

Although polls predicted the untested comedian’s win, Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday it was too soon to congratulate Mr Zelenskiy, much less talk about Russia-Ukraine cooperation, since the election results were not yet official.

The leaders of the United States, the European Union, Germany and France have phoned Mr Zelenskiy to give their congratulations.

Moscow “respects the choice of the Ukrainian people” and will wait for concrete steps by the new Ukrainian leader before making judgments, Mr Peskov said.

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev posted on his Facebook page the election results in Ukraine showed “there is a chance to improve the relations with our country after all”.

Mr Medvedev, whose government has been supplying the Ukrainian separatists with weapons and manpower, expressed hope Mr Zelenskiy would be “pragmatic and responsible” in his approach to the conflict in the east.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments