By Simon Shuster
March 28, 2019

She was next in line for president

He plays one on tv

At first it was hard to tell whether the clip was serious. Standing next to a Christmas tree, Volodymyr Zelensky, one of the most famous comedians in Ukraine, posted a video on New Year’s Eve announcing his bid for the presidency. Most people in Ukraine already knew him as the guy who plays the President on television. In his hit sitcom, Servant of the People, he stars as a history teacher who gets elected by accident and becomes the only honest leader in a system full of crooks.

But his real-life campaign was no joke. Zelensky has been the front runner in the race since January. In most surveys, roughly twice as many people say they will vote for him as for his closest rivals during the first round of voting on March 31. Polls suggest he would also beat any challenger in the runoff set for April 21, when Zelensky is expected to face the incumbent, President Petro Poroshenko, a candy magnate who has led Ukraine through five years of conflict with Russia.

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Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the April 08, 2019 issue of TIME.

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