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Volodymyr Zelensky

Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky (officially Zelenskyy;[a] Ukrainian: Володи́мир Олекса́ндрович Зеле́нський, romanizedVolodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyi, pronounced [woloˈdɪmɪr olekˈsɑndrowɪtʃ zeˈlɛnsʲkɪj]; born 25 January 1978) is a Ukrainian politician, actor, comedian, screenwriter, film producer, and director serving as the 6th President of Ukraine since May 2019.

Volodymyr Zelenskyj
Володимир Зеленський
Volodymyr Zelensky Official portrait.jpg
President Zelensky in 2019
6th President of Ukraine
Assumed office
20 May 2019[1]
Prime MinisterVolodymyr Groysman
Oleksiy Honcharuk
Preceded byPetro Poroshenko
Personal details
Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky

(1978-01-25) 25 January 1978 (age 41)
Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Political partyIndependent
Other political
Servant of the People (2018–present)
Olena Kiyashko (m. 2003)
  • Oleksandra
  • Kyrylo
EducationKyiv National Economic University (department in Kryvyi Rih)
Notable worksKVN
Kvartal 95
Servant of the People
Office Romance. Our Time
Love in the Big City
Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon
Years active1995–2019

Prior to his political career, he obtained a degree in law and created a production company, Kvartal 95, which produces films, cartoons and TV comedy shows.[4] Kvartal 95 created a television series called Servant of the People, in which Zelensky played the role of President of Ukraine. The series aired from 2015 to 2019. A namesake political party bearing the same name as the television show was created in March 2018 by employees of Kvartal 95.[5][6]

Zelensky announced his candidacy for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election on the evening of 31 December 2018,[7] upstaging the New Year's Eve address of President Petro Poroshenko on 1+1 TV Channel.[8] Six months before Zelensky announced his candidacy, he was already one of the frontrunners in opinion polls for the election.[9][10][6] Zelensky won the election with 73.22% of the vote in the second round, defeating Poroshenko.[11]

Early lifeEdit

Zelensky was born 25 January 1978 in Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian SSR to Jewish parents, although his grandfather, Semen Zelensky, was an ethnic Ukrainian.[12][13][14][15] His grandfather, Semyon Ivanovych Zelensky, served in the Red Army during World War II.[16] His father, Oleksandr Zelensky [uk], is a professor who heads an academic department of cybernetics and computing hardware at the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics; his mother, Rimma Zelenska, used to work as an engineer.[17][18][19] Prior to starting elementary school, he lived for four years in Mongolia in the city of Erdenet where his father worked.[13]

Zelensky earned a law degree from the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics, then a department of Kyiv National Economic University, but has not worked professionally in the legal field.[13][10] He speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English.[20]

Entertainment careerEdit

At age 17, he joined the local KVN (a comedy competition) team and was soon invited to join the united Ukrainian team "Zaporizhia-Kryvyi Rih-Transit" which performed in the KVN's Major League and eventually won in 1997.[13][21][22] That same year, he created and headed the Kvartal 95 team which later transformed into the comedy outfit Kvartal 95. From 1998 to 2003, Kvartal 95 performed in the Major League and the highest open Ukrainian league of KVN, the team members spent a lot of the time in Moscow and constantly toured around post-Soviet countries.[13][21] In 2003, Kvartal 95 started producing TV shows for the Ukrainian TV channel 1+1, and in 2005 the team moved to fellow Ukrainian TV channel Inter.[13]

In 2008, he starred in the feature film Love in the Big City, and its sequel, Love in the Big City 2.[13] Zelensky continued his movie career with the film Office Romance. Our Time in 2011 and with Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon in 2012.[13] Love in the Big City 3 was released in January 2014.[13] Zelensky also played the leading role in the 2012 film 8 First Dates and in sequels which were produced in 2015 and 2016.[13]

Zelensky in Prague in 2009

Zelensky was a member of the board and the general producer of the TV channel Inter from 2010 to 2012.[10]

In August 2014, Zelensky spoke out against the intention of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to ban Russian artists from Ukraine.[23] Since 2015, Ukraine has banned Russian artists and other Russian works of culture from entering Ukraine.[24] In 2018, the romantic comedy Love in the Big City 2 starring Zelensky was banned in Ukraine.[25]

After the Ukrainian media had reported that during the War in Donbass Zelensky's Kvartal 95 had donated 1 million hryvnias to the Ukrainian army, some Russian politicians and artists petitioned for a ban on his works in Russia.[26][b] Once again, Zelensky spoke out against the intention of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to ban Russian artists from Ukraine.[23]

Kvartal 95 performance in 2018

In 2015, Zelensky became the star of the popular television series Servant of the People, where he plays the role of the President of Ukraine.[10] In the series, Zelensky's character is a thirty-something high-school history teacher who wins the presidential election after a viral video shows him ranting against government corruption in Ukraine.

Zelensky's comedy series Svaty (parents of wife and parents of husband) was banned for display on the territory of Ukraine in 2017.[27] The ban was lifted in March of 2019.[28]

Zelensky worked mostly in Russian language. His first role in the Ukrainian language was the romantic comedy "I, You, He, She [ru; uk]",[29] which appeared on the screens of Ukraine in December 2018.[30] The first version of the script was written in Ukrainian but was translated into Russian for the Lithuanian actress Agnė Grudytė. Then the movie was dubbed into Ukrainian;[31]

Political careerEdit

The political party Servant of the People was created in March 2018 by people from the television production company Kvartal 95, which also created the television series of the same name.[5][6][32]

In a March 2019 interview with Der Spiegel, Zelensky stated he went into politics to restore trust in politicians and that he wanted "to bring professional, decent people to power" and "would really like to change the mood and timbre of the political establishment, as much as possible".[5][6][32]

Starting 31 December 2018,[8] Zelensky led a successful,[33] almost entirely virtual,[34][35] presidential campaign to unseat the incumbent President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, in just three to four months. Zelensky clearly won both the first round of elections on 31 March,[36] and the run-off election on 21 April 2019.[11]

2019 presidential campaignEdit

Zelensky and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, 19 April 2019

Six months before he announced his candidacy for the Ukrainian presidential election in 2019 (31 December 2018), Zelensky was already one of the frontrunners in opinion polls.[9][10][6][c] After months of ambiguous responses,[37][6][32] during the Kvartal 95 New Year's Eve evening show on the TV channel 1+1, he announced[d] his candidacy for the election.[10] In so doing, he up-staged the New Year's Eve address of President Petro Poroshenko on that particular channel.[8] Zelensky later denied that up-staging the president was intentional, and attributed this to a technical glitch.[38]

During the election campaign Zelensky continued to tour with Kvartal 95.[39] During the campaign his engagement with mainstream media was minimal.[34][e] He talked to the electorate on social media channels and in YouTube clips.[34] On 16 April 2019, 20 Ukrainian news outlets called on Zelensky to stop avoiding journalists.[34] Two days later, Zelensky stated that he was not hiding from journalists but that he did not want to go to talk shows where "people of the old power" were "just doing PR" and that he just did not have time to satisfy all interview requests.[41] Prior to the elections, Zelensky presented a team that included former Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk and others.[42][40] During the campaign, concerns were raised over his links to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.[43] President Poroshenko and his supporters claimed that Zelensky's victory would benefit Russia.[44][45][46][47] On 19 April 2019 at Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex presidential debates were held in the form of a show.[48][49][50] In his introductory speech, Zelensky acknowledged that in 2014 he voted for Poroshenko, but "I was mistaken. We were mistaken. We voted for one Poroshenko, but received another. The first appears when there are video cameras, the other Petro sends Medvedchuk privietiki (greetings) to Moscow".[48]

Zelensky was elected President of Ukraine on 21 April 2019, beating incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with nearly 73% of the vote to Poroshenko's 25%. Kolomoysky stated after the election he is ready to advise president Zelensky.[51] Polish President Andrzej Duda was first of the European leaders to congratulate Zelensky.[52] French President Emmanuel Macron received Zelensky at the Élysée Palace in Paris on 12 April 2019.[53] On 22 April, U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Zelensky on his victory over the telephone.[54][55] European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk also issued a joint letter of congratulations and stated that the European Union (EU) will work to speed up the implementation of the remainder of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.[56]


Presidential styles of
Volodymyr Zelensky
Reference styleЙого Високоповажність, Президент України.
"His Excellency, the President of Ukraine"
Spoken styleПрезидент України.
"President of Ukraine"
Alternative styleПане Президенте.
"Mr President"
Zelensky with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Federal Chancellery Complex in Berlin, June 2019.
Zelensky and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Zhytomyr, October 2019.

Zelensky was inaugurated on 20 May 2019.[57] Various foreign officials attended the ceremony in Ukraine's parliament (Verkhovna Rada), including Salome Zourabichvili (Georgia), Kersti Kaljulaid (Estonia), Raimonds Vējonis (Latvia), Dalia Grybauskaitė (Lithuania), János Áder (Hungary), Maroš Šefčovič (European Union), and Rick Perry (United States).[58] In his swearing-in speech he dissolved the then Ukrainian parliament as his first act as president, in spite of pre-emptive attempts to block this move by the People’s Front, which withdrew from the ruling coalition a few days prior to his inauguration.[59][60]

As one of the first acts of his presidency, Zelensky appointed Andriy Bohdan as Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. Prior to this, Bohdan was the lawyer of Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.[61] Under the rules of Lustration in Ukraine, introduced in 2014 following Euromaidan, Bohdan is not entitled to hold any state office until 2024 (because of his government post during the Second Azarov Government).[62] Bohdan, however, claims that according to the law, heading the presidential administration is not considered to be civil service work and therefore lustration does not apply to him.[63] Bohdan suspended his juridical career after becoming Head of the Presidential Administration.[64] Following his appointment Bohdan claimed that "the oligarchs already want the same rules of the game as other citizens".[64] The other Deputy Heads of the Presidential Administration Zelensky appointed were mostly leading figures of Kvartal 95.[61] The head of Kvartal 95, and a childhood friend of Zelensky, Ivan Bakanov, was appointed Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Secret Service.[65] On 10 June 2019, Head of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) Vasyl Hrytsak awarded[66] Bakanov with the military lieutenant rank.

Under a presidential decree signed on 21 May 2019, Zelensky appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal as Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration.[67] However, a few hours later the text of the decree disappeared from the site of the president. According to Ukrayinska Pravda, Zerkal did agree to be the sole authorized representative of the international courts of Ukraine concerning Russia, but not to be a deputy head of the administration.[68] On 28 May, Zelensky restored the Ukrainian citizenship of Mikheil Saakashvili.[69]

The day before, he visited the front line, where he examined positions around Luhansk and received reports from military commanders. On 3 June, Zelensky appointed former President Leonid Kuchma as the representative of Ukraine in the Tripartite Contact Group for a settlement in the Donbass Conflict.[70] The next day, he arrived in Brussels on his first official foreign visit as president, meeting with European Union and NATO officials, including Jens Stoltenberg, Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.[71][72][73][74]

Zelensky's first major proposal to change the electoral system was rejected by the Ukrainian parliament.[75]

The parliament also refused to approve Zelensky's dismissal of the country's Foreign Minister, Minister of Defence and Head of the SBU.[76] In addition, on 6 June, lawmakers refused to include Zelensky's key initiative on reintroducing criminal liability for illegal enrichment in the parliament's agenda, and instead included a similar bill proposed by a group of deputies.[77][78] In June 2019 it was announced that the president's third major initiative, which seeks to remove immunity from lawmakers, diplomats and judges, would be submitted after the July 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election.[79]

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and US delegation meets with Zelensky in Warsaw on 1 September 2019
Zelensky meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City on 25 September 2019

On 11 June 2019, Zelensky dismissed the heads of 15 of Ukraine's oblasts (provinces) and the heads of the SBU (secret service) departments of five oblasts and asked parliament to remove the country's Prosecutor General from office.[80][81] On July 8, Zelensky ordered the cancellation of the annual Kiev Independence Day Parade on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, citing costs. Despite this, Zelensky highlighted that the day would "honor heroes" on Independence Day, however the "format will be new".[82][83][84] He also proposed to spend the money that would have been used to finance the parade on veterans.[85]

On 11 July 2019, Zelensky held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the former's appeals to the Russian leader to take part in talks with Ukraine, the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom in Minsk.[86][87] The leaders also discussed the exchange of prisoners held by both sides.[87]

In the 21 July 2019 parliamentary election, Zelensky's political party, Servant of the People, won the first single-party majority in modern Ukrainian history in parliament, with 43% of the party-list vote. His party gained 254 of the 424 seats.[88]

In September 2019 it was reported that U.S. President Donald Trump had pressured Zelensky during a July phone call between the two Presidents to investigate alleged wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden,[47][89] who took a board seat on Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings,[90][91] This report was the catalyst for the Trump–Ukraine scandal and the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. Zelensky has denied that he was pressured by Trump and declared that "he does not want to interfere in a foreign election."[92]

Zelensky promised to lift the moratorium on exhuming Polish mass graves in Ukraine after the previous Ukrainian government banned the Polish side from carrying out any exhumations of Polish victims of the UPA-perpetrated Volhynian massacres, following the removal of a memorial to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in Hruszowice, southeastern Poland.[93]

Political viewsEdit

Zelensky supported the 2013–14 Euromaidan movement. During the War in Donbass, he actively supported the Ukrainian army.[10] Zelensky helped fund a volunteer battalion.[94]

In a 2014 interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine Zelensky said that he would have liked to pay a visit to Crimea, but would avoid it because "armed people are there".[95] In August 2014, Zelensky performed for Ukrainian troops in Mariupol and later his studio donated a million hryvnias to the Ukrainian army.[96]

Zelensky and European Commission's President Jean-Claude Juncker

During his presidential campaign, Zelensky said that he supported Ukraine becoming a member of the European Union and NATO, but he said Ukrainian voters should decide on the country's membership of these two organisations in referendums.[97] At the same time, he believed that the Ukrainian people had already chosen "eurointegration".[97] Zelensky's chief of staff Ivan Bakanov also said that Zelensky's policy is supportive of membership of both the EU and NATO, and proposes holding referendums on membership.[98] Zelensky's electoral programme claimed that Ukrainian NATO membership is "the choice of the Maidan and the course that is enshrined in the Constitution, in addition, it is an instrument for strengthening our defense capability".[99] The program states that Ukraine should set the goal to apply for a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2024.[99] The programme also states that Zelensky "will do everything to ensure" that Ukraine can apply for European Union membership in 2024.[100] Two days before the second round, Zelensky stated that he wanted to build "a strong, powerful, free Ukraine, which is not the younger sister of Russia, which is not a corrupt partner of Europe, but our independent Ukraine".[101]

Zelensky promised that his first bill "On People's Power" will provide a mechanism for referendums.[102] (This promise was not kept—his first submitted bill was a law on public procurement of elections.[102]) He also promised bills to fight corruption, including removal of immunity from the president of the country, members of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) and judges, a law about impeachment, reform of election laws, and providing efficient trial by jury. He promised to bring the salary for military personnel "to the level of NATO standards".[103]

Zelensky stated that as President he would develop the economy and attract investment to Ukraine through "a restart of the judicial system" and restoring confidence in the state.[104] He also proposed a tax amnesty and a 5% flat tax for big business which could be increased "in dialogue with them and if everyone agrees".[104] According to Zelensky, if people would notice that his new government "works honestly from the first day", they would start paying their taxes.[104]

In an interview in December 2018, Zelensky stated that as President he would try to end the ongoing War in Donbass by negotiating with Russia.[105][106] As he considered the leaders of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic (DPR and LPR) to be Russia's "puppets", it would "make no sense to speak with them".[106] He did not rule out holding a referendum on the issue.[107][106] In an interview published three days before the 2019 presidential election (on 21 April) Zelensky stated that he was against granting the Donbass region "special status".[108] In the interview he also said that if he were elected President he would not sign a law on amnesty for the militants of the DPR and LPR.[108]

Regarding the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, Zelensky said that, speaking realistically, it would be possible to return Crimea to Ukrainian control only after a regime change in Russia.[109]

Zelensky supports the free distribution of medical cannabis, free abortion in Ukraine and the legalisation of prostitution and gambling.[108] He opposes the legalisation of weapons.[108]

Zelensky has come out against targeting the Russian language in Ukraine and the banning of artists for their (as viewed by the Ukrainian Government as anti-Ukrainian) political opinions.[110][111][112] In April 2019 he stated that he was not against a Ukrainian language quota (on radio and TV) and that Russian artists "who have turned into (anti-Ukrainian) politicians" should remain banned from entering Ukraine.[108] He simultaneously floated this idea about the Ukrainian language quota: "you can change them a little".[113]

Zelensky stated in April 2019 that "of course" he supports the decommunization of Ukraine, but is not happy with its current form.[113][108] In an interview with RBC-Ukraine in April 2019, Zelensky said that OUN-B leader Stepan Bandera, a controversial figure in Ukrainian history, was "a hero for a certain part of Ukrainians, and this is a normal and cool thing. He was one of those who defended the freedom of Ukraine. But I think that when we name so many streets, bridges by the same name, this is not quite right."[113][114] In that same interview, Zelensky goes on to criticise the overuse of tributes to Taras Shevchenko, a much less controversial Ukrainian poet and painter. Zelensky concludes: "We must remember the heroes of today, heroes of the arts, heroes of literature, simply heroes of Ukraine. Why don't we use their names - the names of the heroes that today unite Ukraine?"[113]

In response to suggestions to the contrary, he stated in April 2019 that he regarded Russian President Vladimir Putin "as an enemy".[115] On 2 May 2019 Zelensky wrote on Facebook that "the border is the only thing Russia and Ukraine have in common".[116]

Although Zelensky prefers elections with open list election ballots, after he called the snap 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election his draft law "On amendments to some laws of Ukraine in connection with the change of the electoral system for the election of people's deputies" proposed to hold the election with closed list because the 60-day term to the snap election "leave any chances for the introduction of this system".[117]

In a mid-June interview with BIHUS info [uk] representative of the President of Ukraine at the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Andriy Gerus [uk] stated that Zelensky had never promised to lower communal tariffs, but that a campaign video in which Zelensky stated that the price of natural gas in Ukraine could fall by 20–30% or maybe more was a not a direct promise but actually “half-hinting" and "joking".[118] Notably, Zelensky's election manifesto only mentioned tariffs once—that money raised from a capital amnesty would go towards "lowering the tariff burden on low-income citizens".[119][120]

Personal lifeEdit

Olena and Volodymyr Zelensky greeting Dalia Grybauskaitė, May 2019.

In September 2003 Zelensky married Olena Kiyashko.[13] They both attended the same school.[13] According to Zelenska she and her husband grew up in an overtly and predominantly Russian-speaking environment and had no relatives who spoke Ukrainian, except for ones who used Surzhyk, a sociolect of Ukrainian and Russian.[121] Zelenska told BBC News Ukrainian in April 2019 that she "heard the Ukrainian language for the first time in the second grade in the Ukrainian language class from a teacher."[121] She also told the BBC that she and her husband can freely communicate in Ukrainian, especially when he is not "influenced by stress and psychological pressure", but that her husband was still "trying to deepen his knowledge" of the Ukrainian language.[121]

The couple's first daughter, Oleksandra, was born in July 2004.[13] In Zelensky's 2014 movie 8 New Dates she played Sasha, the daughter of the protagonist.[13] In 2016 she participated in the show The Comedy Comedy's Kids and won 50,000 hryvnias.[13] Their son Kyrylo was born in January 2013.[13]

Zelensky's assets were worth about 37 million hryvnias (about US$1.5 million) in 2018.[122]

Selected filmographyEdit

The Film premiere of I, You, He, She


Year Title Role
2009 Love in the Big City Igor
2011 Office Romance. Our Time Anatoly Efremovich Novoseltsev
2012 Love in the Big City 2 Igor
2012 Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon Napoleon
2012 8 First Dates Nikita Sokolov
2014 Love in Vegas Igor Zelensky
2015 8 New Dates Nikita Andreevich Sokolov


Year Title Role Notes
2006 Dancing with the Stars (Ukraine) as contestant
2008–2012 Svaty as producer
2015–2019 Servant of the People Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko


  1. ^ Zelensky's name lacks an established Latin-alphabet spelling, and it has been romanized in various ways: for example Volodymyr Zelenskyi or Zelenskyy from Ukrainian, or Vladimir Zelenskiy from Russian. Zelenskyy is the spelling in his passport, and his administration has used it since May 2019.[2][3]
  2. ^ Since 2015, Ukraine has banned Russian artists and other Russian works of culture from entering Ukraine.[24]
  3. ^ Polling showed that Zelensky was especially popular among potential voters in southern Ukraine and to a lesser extent eastern Ukraine.[6]
  4. ^ The announcement was in a video message half in Russian and half in Ukrainian.[10]
  5. ^ From 21 January until 18 April 2019 Zelensky did not give interviews.[40]


  1. ^ "Volodymyr Zelensky: Comedian-president calls snap election". BBC News. 20 May 2019.
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  3. ^ Mendel, Iuliia (10 June 2019). "Dear colleagues, this is the official form of the last name that the President has in his passport. This was decided by the passport service of Ukraine. The President won't be offended if BBC standards assume different transliteration". @IuliiaMendel. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
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  25. ^ (in Ukrainian) "Night watch", "Love in a big city 2": in the State Committee called new prohibited films Archived 17 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine, Ukrayinska Pravda (17 January 2019)
  26. ^ (in Russian) Actor Zelensky criticized the SBU because of the ban on the series "Matchmakers" Archived 2 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine, RIA Novosti (24 November 2017)
    (in Russian) SC will check whether Zelensky financed the Ukrainian army Archived 6 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Komsomolskaya Pravda (02/05/15)
  27. ^ "Volodymyr Zelensky in major lead in Ukraine presidential election runoff: Biography, quotes". Ukrainian Independent Information Agency (UNIAN). 22 April 2019.
  28. ^ "Суд скасував заборону на серіал "Свати"". Українська правда.
  29. ^ (in Ukrainian) "Quarter 95" will take off its first Ukrainian-language comedy with Nastya Kamensky in the lead role, [uk; de] (20 June 2017). Retrieved 4 April 2019
  30. ^ "Я, Ти, Вiн, Вона (2018) – Release Info" [I, You, He, She (2018) – Release Info]. IMDb. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  31. ^ Tetjana Turlik’yan (18 December 2018). Мовний факап і чіткі актори: як пройшла презентація комедії "Я, ти, він, вона" від "Квартал 95" [Language fakap and clear actors: how was the presentation of the comedy "I, You, He, She" from "Quarter 95"] (in Ukrainian). РБК-Україна. Archived from the original on 19 January 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
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External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Petro Poroshenko
President of Ukraine
Preceded by
Savik Shuster
Most beautiful by VIVA!
With: Tina Karol
Succeeded by
Konstantin Meladze