Volodymyr Zelenskiy: Ukraine presidential candidate 'to attend next debate' after 'missing' first

April 15, 2019

The surprise victor in the first round of Ukraine's presidential elections is expected to attend a future TV debate, officials have said.

It comes a day after he failed to turn up to what his opponent hoped would be the first event.

On Sunday, spectators were left bemused by the sight of incumbent president Petro Poroshenko standing next to an empty podium after Volodymyr Zelenskiy was a no-show.

Mr Zelenskiy, who won 30% of the votes in the first round of the election despite being a political novice and a comedian and actor by profession, had not said he would take part in Sunday's event.

He had told Mr Poroshenko's office he intended to take part in the official debate on 19 April.

According to Ukraine's election law, presidential candidates must have a televised debate by the last Friday before the run-off vote, which will take place on 21 April.

Mr Poroshenko, who had wanted Sunday's event to be the debate, effectively turned it into a rally, answering questions from journalists in front of a bank of TV cameras.

He used the question and answer session to mock Mr Zelenskiy, who is yet to spell out his full political agenda.

Mr Poroshenko said: "I do not like that a presidential campaign in Ukraine looks like a silent movie. I must say: Ukraine's fate is in danger."

Apparently addressing Mr Zelenskiy, he added: "You told me on Sunday - We'll go to the debate together. I came, you didn't - You tricked me, let me down."

The event was held at the Olympic Stadium in the capital Kiev, where thousands of Mr Poroshenko's supporters watched on big screens.

Mr Poroshenko stood next to an empty lectern bearing Mr Zelenskiy's name, but there was no sign of the comedian, who made his name in a TV drama about a teacher who runs for political office.

The incumbent then went on to address the crowd directly.

Mr Poroshenko's adviser Yury Biryukov said he still expected his boss to go face to face with Mr Zelenskiy on the 19th.

He wrote on Facebook: "So that no one has any illusions - this was a warm-up today.

"Now there is a serious discussion with Zelensky's headquarters about the time of the debate at the stadium and in the studio.

"That is, if they can decide. 19/04 we are waiting for (the second) round. We are ready."

Mr Zelenskiy's campaign Twitter account also appeared to confirm he would be attending, saying: "Volodymyr Zelenskiy ... carefully watched the debate. It's like in sports. Before an important fight it is necessary to carefully examine the opponent's tactics and see weaknesses."

Mr Zelenskiy is currently way ahead in the polls, but his victory might concern Western governments as his priorities are unclear.

Ukraine has been the site of a proxy war between Russia and the West since pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was topped following the Euromaidan protests.

Eastern Ukraine remains a battleground, with Russia-backed separatists locked in a stalemate with government-backed forces.

The war in Donbass broke out in the wake of Russia annexing Crimea, which the UN regards as Ukrainian territory.

Among policies Mr Zelenskiy has proposed are plans to end war with Russia, according to the Kyiv Post.

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