JTA — Ukraine’s presidential election is shaping up to be a case of life imitating art.
This is because the leading candidate in the March 31 vote is Volodymyr Zelensky, a Ukrainian-Jewish comedian who portrays a history teacher turned president in his hit television show, “Servant of the People.”
Polls conducted throughout February give Zelensky, 41, who has no political experience, 25 percent of the vote — a 10-point lead over incumbent Petro Poroshenko and political veteran Yulia Timoshenko who are running for the top office in the national election.
On television, Zelensky’s unlikely presidential candidacy nonetheless carries him into office thanks to popular resentment of corruption and ineptitude in the government and political establishment.
Zelensky, whom local media already began dubbing “the Ukrainian Donald Trump,” is not president yet. But the resentment addressed in his show is not fictional.
In a poll of 40,000 Ukrainian respondents last year, 41 percent of poll participants ranked bribery and corruption as the second-most pressing problem in Ukraine. The number one issue troubling Ukrainians is the territorial conflict with Russia, the poll indicated.
Born in Kryvyi Rih near Dnipro to a Jewish family of scientists, Zelensky has not mentioned his Jewish identity in interviews before or during the campaign, which critics say is purposefully vague.
When a reporter asked him how he would deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zelensky reverted to his comic roots, replying: “I would speak to him at eye level.” It was a comedic reference to Putin being at least three inches shorter than incumbent Ukrainian president Poroshenko’s six feet.