Results from nearly all polling stations show that TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy has won the Ukrainian presidential run-off vote in a landslide.
The Central Election Commission said today that the popular comedian has won 73% of the vote, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko got just 24% support with more than 95% of the ballots counted.
Unlike in most of the elections in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, Mr Zelenskiy appears to have won in both Ukraine’s west and east, areas that have been traditionally polarised.
One of the campaign slogans of the star, who has no previous political experience, was to unify Ukraine, which has been hit by bitter debates over its identity as well as the separatist conflict in the east that is fuelled by neighbouring Russia.
Even before results started trickling in, Mr Poroshenko accepted defeat, saying: “I am leaving office, but I want to firmly underline that I am not leaving politics.”
Mr Zelenskiy, for his part, promised wide changes at the top echelons of government and said his number one task would be securing the release of about 170 Ukrainian military members taken prisoner in the east or in Russia.
Ukraine has been plagued by rampant corruption, a sickly economy and a grinding, five-year war with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country that has killed more than 13,000 people.
After his apparent election, Mr Zelenskiy said he would engage Russia to try to end the conflict.
He also said, without giving details, that “we will make a very powerful information war” in order to stop the fighting.
He also suggested, in a remark that could grate on Russia, that his victory could be a model for other former Soviet states that want to move forward from ossified politics.
“To all the countries of the former Soviet Union – look at us, everything is possible.”
Although the early results were a small fraction of the vote, the US Embassy in Ukraine congratulated Mr Zelenskiy, as did Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.
Mr Zelenskiy, 41, became famous nationwide for his comic portrayal in a Ukrainian TV series of a high school teacher who becomes president after a video rant against corruption goes viral.
In a case of life imitating television, Mr Zelenskiy denounced corruption as a real candidate.