As with many post-Soviet states, Ukraine has experienced a tumultuous existence. Leaders pledging allegiance to the European Union and Russia fought multiple elections, exchanging victories and constantly changing foreign policy. However, from Petro Poroshenko to Viktor Yanukovych, there was one common thread binding all Ukrainian politicians- corruption. Of course, corruption is not a Ukrainian problem. From democracies like India to large swathes of pseudo-authoritarian regimes in Africa, those in power have sought to abuse it and use to best serve their interests. Politicians are often in the pockets of corporate lobbyists and Ukrainians, like most, were sick of it. At the time of our story’s origin, which can be traced to the Russian invasion of Crimea, it was clear that sentiments were leaning towards the European Union. In 2014, according to Mitchell Orenstein, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University, as many as 70% of the electorate supported a pro-EU alternative to Yanukovych. Yet, when our comedian protagonist stood for President, Euroscepticism was not what he brought to the table. Instead, he brought something entirely alien to politics- likeability.
Zelensky’s unique selling point was simple- he was new. His record was unblemished with no prior allegations of corruption, of favouritism, and no links to Russian or European politicians. In fact, he had no background in politics at all. His campaign too was incredibly unique. He stayed away from conventional mainstream media, refusing to be drawn into a battle between corporate powers that owned news channels. Instead, he ran an online campaign avoiding conventional PR opportunities. He participated in the Presidential debates and by the time, he had successfully transformed himself from a comedian with an agenda to a convincing president with a plan.
Even though he was ahead in most opinion polls, his massive eventual victory was still a landmark moment in politics. By achieving nearly 73% of the vote, he comfortably defeated the incumbent Poroshenko and in the process, broke new ground for people across the world. An oft-told joke in political comedy circles has come to light- as the average politician has been reduced to a joke, the comedian has stepped in to take the mantle and take the country forward.