Adviser to comedian-candidate says Ukraine ripe for change


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The thriving presidential campaign of Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy may seem improbable, but his campaign adviser says the country is at the point where it needs reforms from untraditional sources.

Oleksandr Danylyuk spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday, three days after an election in which Zelenskiy received the most votes by far, easily outpacing the incumbent president and a former prime minister.

"Now is the time for a new leader to form a new and strong team, and show everyone that reforms are possible and can be made by those people from whom this is least expected," Danylyuk said.

Zelenskiy and President Petro Poroshenko are set to face off in an April 21 runoff. If Zelenskiy wins, observers have suggested his adviser might become prime minister.

Unlike his candidate, who stars on a television series about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral, Danylyuk has high-level experience in Ukraine's government.

He served as finance minister under Poroshenko for two years before being dismissed in 2018 after complaining that needed reforms to combat corruption were being stalled.

Ukraine's pervasive corruption is at the heart of Zelenskiy's appeal. His popularity on TV and at the ballot box reflects widespread disappointment in Poroshenko, who took office in 2014.

Danylyuk said he thinks Poroshenko was able to formulate an effective anti-corruption program, but unable to implement it.

"We don't need new promises, to invent something new - we need to do something that (Poroshenko) couldn't do or didn't want to do," Danylyuk said.

Zelenskiy's first step if he is elected president would be reviving anti-corruption and judicial reforms and judicial reforms, Danylyuk said, including the launching of a long-awaited anti-corruption court.

His favoring of a referendum to determine if Ukrainians want their country to seek NATO membership prompted criticism the candidate might be too sensitive to views in Russia, Danylyuk said Ukraine's course on joining NATO and the European Union would be maintained under Zelenskiy.

"As for the foreign policy of both accession to the EU and NATO, the Ukrainians made their choice. There are even changes in the Constitution," he said, referring to Poroshenko's signing an amendment this year committing the country to pursuing membership in both the European bloc and the Western military alliance.

Economic reforms also would continue, meeting aid conditions set by the International Monetary Fund and encouraging investors, Danylyuk said.

"I communicate with many foreign investors who look at Zelenskiy as reliable," he said.

Zelenskiy has proposed direct discussions with Moscow about the war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Danylyuk said the five-year conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people cannot be stopped quickly.

"This is a difficult question, and there is no ready solution," he said.