Comic likely to top first round as Ukraine chooses president

Ukranian actor Volodymyr Zelensky may win in the polls. (AFP pic)

KIEV: “I’m voting for anyone apart from Poroshenko (Petro). I don’t believe him, he cheated us,” said 40-year-old housewife Olga, who had come to a polling station in the Western city of Lviv with her young daughter.

“I’m just going to go into the booth and decide who to vote for. I just don’t know. Definitely not for Volodymyr Zelensky,” said Irina, a 35-year-old manicurist in central Kiev.

In the eastern city of Mariupol, near the frontline of the separatist conflict that has cost 13,000 lives over five years, soldiers were among those casting their ballots.

The war is “the main question for everyone,” said 22-year-old soldier Sergiy, without specifying who he was voting for. “The country is tired of this situation, people are tired.”

Casting his vote in central Kiev, Poroshenko said he regretted mud slinging during the campaign but praised the “well prepared” and “secure” election.

Security services said armed special forces had been deployed in towns and cities across the country on polling day.

Social media manifesto

There are a record 39 candidates on the ballot paperwhich is more than 80 cm long – but only the three frontrunners have a realistic chance of progressing to a run-off vote.

All three have said they will keep Ukraine on the European course it has charted since a 2014 revolution forced pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from office.

The popular uprising was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko was elected after he pledged to tackle graft, align Ukraine with the West and end the separatist fighting.

But the conflict is grinding on, corruption is rife and the country is struggling to recover from an economic crisis that began in 2014.

Zelensky, meanwhile, has been criticised for the vagueness of his manifesto, the key pledges of which were chosen following a public vote on social media.

The entertainer has eschewed rallies and interviews in favour of playing gigs with his comedy troupe up to the final days of campaigning.

But supporters say only a brand new face can clean up the murky politics of one of the poorest nations in Europe.

Some accuse Zelensky of acting as a front for the interests of oligarch Igor Kolomoysky, who owns the channel that broadcasts the entertainer’s shows, but he denies any political links.

‘Chance for change’

Tymoshenko – who came to international prominence during the 2004 Orange Revolution and is a divisive figure in Ukraine – has focused on the cost of living.

She has promised to cut consumer gas prices in half and boost pensions as she appeals to an older base during her third bid for the presidency.

“Today we have a chance to change everything,” Tymoshenko said as she cast her vote in the capital

Exit polls are expected when polling stations close at 8pm. First preliminary results are expected several hours later.

Barring a shock result in which one candidate crosses the 50% threshold in the first round, a run-off is to be held on April 21.