Zelensky’s bid for the presidency was initially dismissed as a protest vote and a joke. The actor found fame in his role in the Ukrainian television series “Servant of the People” as a down-and-out schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes President of Ukraine after becoming famous for an anti-corruption rant that went viral on social media.
But Zelensky’s biggest role as presidential hopeful resonated well with an electorate tired of economic turmoil, militant rhetoric and escalating tensions with Russia.
In November, after Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and detained 24 sailors in the Kerch Strait — a strategic waterway that links the Azov Sea with the Black Sea — Poroshenko’s government responded by imposing martial law and warning of impending Russian invasion.
Poroshenko’s turbulent term
Poroshenko, a supporter of EU membership who came to power in the aftermath of the country’s 2013 pro-European Maidan protests, has spent his presidency entangled in an undeclared war with Ukraine’s neighbor.
Ukranian troops in the eastern Donbas region have been battling Russian-backed separatists, who have received covert military support from Moscow in a bloody conflict that emerged following Russia’s annexation of the Black sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014. That conflict has claimed almost 13,000 lives, with at least 3,321 civilian deaths, according to United Nations estimates.
Poroshenko has also played on Ukraine’s bid for greater spiritual independence from Russia, welcoming a decision last October by Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual and symbolic leader of the Eastern Orthodox church, to recognize an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
He capitalized on his ability to play tough with Russia throughout his campaign, casting Russian President Vladimir Putin as his rival.
“When asked who is my ally, with whom I am ready to unite and coordinate my actions, I answer: my ally is the Ukrainian people,” he said in a tweet in late March.