Comedian Zelenskiy takes lead in Ukraine presidential election

Comedian Zelenskiy takes lead in Ukraine presidential election

Following the exit, polls, he also said that his apparent victory was "only the first step towards a big victory".

President Poroshenko is fiercely pro-West and has sought to align Ukraine with the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

A man wears a mask depicting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during a pre-election rally held by former Ukrainian prime minister and now presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev, Ukraine, on March 29, 2019, ahead of the presidential election on March 31. "We won't give Kolomoisky any chance", Poroshenko said.

A comedian whose political experience is limited to playing the president on TV is likely to top the first round as Ukrainians vote for a leader Sunday, amid frustrations over living standards and corruption.

A recent survey put them neck and neck at around 17 percent, though another showed Poroshenko - who amassed a vast fortune in the chocolate business before being elected leader in 2014 - pulling ahead of ally-turned-foe Tymoshenko to make the second round.

The elections took place against a backdrop of war in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk region, with government forces fighting Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 13,000 people.

"He embodies the perceived need for "new faces" in politics and could sway the young, pro-reform electorate to his side", said Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Agnese Ortolani.

The poll conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology and the Razumkov Center public opinion organization was based on almost 18,000 responses to questioning at some 400 polling places as of 6 p.m., two hours before the polls closed.

Speaking at a polling station Sunday, the president echoed his campaign promises of taking Ukraine into the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The martin of error is not higher than 2.1%.

A runoff between the top two candidates in the race will take place on April 21.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said it received over 1,700 complaints and opened 19 criminal cases during Sunday's election day.

It said the reported violations included unauthorized campaigning at polling stations, attempts to bribe voters and removal of ballots.

Exit polls are expected when voting stations close at 8 pm local time (1700 GMT).

Igor Isajew, editor of a news portal for Ukrainians in Poland, PROstir.pl, said that many other Ukrainians in Poland remain unable to vote because they live too far from the polling stations.

He said: "This is an absolutely necessary condition for our moving forward, for the return of Ukraine into the family of European nations and our membership of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".

The former prime minister, Tymoshenko, shaped her message around the economic distress of millions of Ukrainians.

Opinion polls have shown Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who stars in a TV sitcom about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral, leading a field of 39 candidates.

Several millions of the approximately 35 million eligible voters are unable or unwilling to cast their ballots in the occupied territories.

Poroshenko, who said the elections had been fair and in line with global standards, sought to portray Zelenskiy as unfit to represent Ukraine overseas, especially in taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin in worldwide talks.

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