KIEV (Reuters) – When comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy strode onto stage on Sunday to claim victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, he was accompanied by several teammates who could become familiar faces in Ukrainian politics in the coming months.
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019./File Photo
Zelenskiy, an actor with no political experience, defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko by a landslide on Sunday, as voters backed his promise to root out corruption and up-end the status quo.
But Zelenskiy remains something of an unknown, celebrated less for his plans and policies than for his role in a popular Ukrainian TV series, playing a fictional president.
His co-stars, producers and screenwriters from that series have accompanied him throughout the campaign, including standing at his side during a pre-election debate held in a football stadium.
Also in Zelenskiy’s orbit are individuals linked to Ukrainian tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, who owns the channel on which Zelenskiy’s comedy shows air and whose ties to the candidate during the campaign became an election battleground.
Zelenskiy has not announced who he plans to appoint to government roles and on Sunday several members of his team said it was still too early to announce any names.
In “Servant of the People” – the TV series in which Zelenskiy stars, and after which he named his political party – the fictional president struggles to appoint his ministers and team.
Finding all establishment candidates too prone to corruption, he hires his friends and family members instead.
Blurring the line between fiction and reality on Sunday, Zelenskiy walked out to hear the election exit poll results at his campaign headquarters to the theme tune of the series in which he stars.
Walking in with him was Andrei Bogdan, a lawyer few Ukrainians would recognize, whose unofficial role on Zelenskiy’s team was revealed by journalists during the campaign.
Bogdan, from Lviv in western Ukraine, has held jobs in government before. During the rule of Viktor Yanukovich, prior to the Maidan street protests that brought Petro Poroshenko to power, Bogdan worked as a Deputy Minister of Justice and then as a deputy minister responsible for anti-corruption policy.
In 2014, he became an adviser to Kolomoisky, when the businessman was the governor of Dnipropetrovsk region.
Dmytro Razumkov, a political adviser on Zelenskiy’s team who spent election day meeting diplomats and giving media interviews at the HQ, has previously said Bogdan was involved in Zelenskiy’s campaign “as his old friend”, according to Ukrainian media outlet Bihus.
Skipping Sunday’s festivities was another of Zelenskiy’s business partners, Timur Mindych, himself an associate of tycoon Kolomoisky via his media empire and the owner of Alkor-D, a Kiev-based factory producing artificial diamonds.
Mindych and Zelenskiy were co-owners until January of a Cyprus offshore and during the campaign, Zelenskiy used a bulletproof Mercedes that was registered to Mindych, according to a vehicle ownership database.
Celebrating on stage with Zelenskiy on Sunday, as champagne flowed at the bar and confetti fluttered overhead, was Serhiy Shefir.
Shefir and his brother Boris are long-time producers of Zelenskiy’s TV shows. They are among several members of his comedy team, formed in his southern Ukraine hometown of Kryvyi Rih.
The brothers are close friends of Zelenskiy and have been involved in around ten companies together, while their wives co-own property.
Also at the campaign headquarters on Sunday was actor Oleksandr Pikalov who was also part of the improvised comedy scene in Kryvyi Rih. He plays a neighborhood policeman in “Servant of the People” who, as an old friend of the president, is appointed Minister of Defense.
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his team members react following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi/File Photo
“I have known him for 35 years, I was the witness at his wedding, we studied together in school,” Pikalov told Reuters.
He said none of the comedy team were keen on roles in Zelenskiy’s government.
“No one is considering it. Do you know how nice our jobs are?” Pikalov said.