President Petro Poroshenko and showman-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelenskiy held a presidential debate at the Olimpyskiy Stadium in Kyiv at 7 p.m. local time on April 19, just two days before the election.
Poroshenko and Zelenskiy are the two finalists of the Ukrainian presidential election. In the election’s March 31 first round, Poroshenko received 16 percent of the vote, while Zelenskiy took 30 percent.
The two candidates will compete in the run-off election on April 21. The polls show that Zelenskiy, a newcomer who announced his move from show business to politics three months before the election, is likely to win the presidency.
Widely regarded as a strong orator, Poroshenko pressed Zelenskiy to debate him. After two weeks of arguing about the terms, the time, and the place of the debate, the candidates finally decided to meet at Olimpiyskiy, Ukraine’s largest sports arena. It is the first time since 2004 that the second-round presidential candidates have held a debate.
The following are the Kyiv Post’s live updates from the debate.
Editor’s note: This live update has ended. Look for further, more detailed coverage of the debate on www.kyivpost.com.
8 p.m. The one-hour debate ended with the whole stadium singing the national anthem.
7:50 p.m. The moderators offered both candidates to ask one another one yes-no question.
Zelenskiy: “Are you ashamed?”
Poroshenko: “No, because I’m proud of Ukraine. Are you going to do everything you can so that your friends like Kolomoisky are investigated and put in prison?”
7:40 p.m. Poroshenko referenced Zelenskiy’s remark from an earlier interview where he said he was ready to kneel to negotiate a peace deal with Russia.
Answering that, Zelenskiy said he wanted to kneel before the mothers of the soldiers who were killed in the war with Russia. He then went and knelt onstage, facing the audience. Poroshenko knelt next to him but turned his back to the audience to face Tetyana Rychkova, a volunteer who helps the military, a military officer, and a lawmaker. Rychkova’s husband Vadym, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in action in August 2014.
7:34 p.m. Zelenskiy about his connections to Kolomoiskiy: “If anyone violates the law (during my presidency), including Ihor Kolomoisky, they will go to prison.”
7:32 p.m. Poroshenko attacked Zelenskiy over Ihor Kolomoisky, a notorious oligarch, who has business ties to Zelenskiy and has been suspected to influence his campaign. Both Zelenskiy and Kolomoisky deny that.
7:30 p.m. Zelenskiy to Poroshenko: “My fingers are crossed that you and your circle never make a return to politics.”
7:28 p.m. Zelenskiy: “I’m not your opponent. I’m your verdict. Why didn’t you punish your friends for corruption?”
Poroshenko: “None of my friends are involved in any corruption.”
7:25 p.m. Poroshenko to Zelenskiy: “You need to go to the front line to see the war instead of avoiding conscription.” Zelenskiy responds: “You’re lying again.”
7:20 p.m. Zelenskiy to Poroshenko: “What is it like to be a rich president in a poor country? Why were the arsonists (who burned your) Roshen stores found in four hours, while the arsonists who set military warehouses on fire were never found?”
Official investigations say that a series of explosions at munitions depots in Ukraine were the result of “Russian diversion.” However, many question this conclusion, as the munitions were stored in poor conditions.
7:15 p.m. Poroshenko is delivering an energetic speech, focusing on the Russian threat and the inexperienced Zelenskiy’s presumptive incompetence as a leader.
“I don’t think that Zelenskiy wants to give Ukraine up to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” he said. “But Putin wants to take it.”
7:10 p.m. Zelenskiy has made his opening statement. He spoke for five minutes, attacking Poroshenko for hypocrisy, under-the-table deals, and high utility tariffs. His speech was interrupted by Poroshenko’s supporters who shouted from the bleachers. Poroshenko supporters far outnumber Zelenskiy supporters, likely because the incumbent president’s campaign or supporters organized transport to Kyiv.
“I supported Poroshenko in 2014,” Zelenskiy said. “I made a mistake. We made a mistake.”
7:02 p.m. Poroshenko surprised the stadium as he left his stage and crossed the field to stand next to Zelenskiy on his stage.
7 p.m. In a coin toss, a representative of Zelenskiy won the right for the political newcomer to start the debate. The debate will be moderated by journalist Andriy Kulykov and ICTV presenter Olena Frolyak.
6:45 p.m. Infrastructure Minister and Poroshenko supporter Volodymyr Omelyan came to the fan zone for the president’s supporters with his wife, popular Kyiv designer Svitlana Bevza. Omelyan said he believed Poroshenko would win — but even if not, he’s not going to resign. He said he sees no other choice than Poroshenko for president.
“He’s the only candidate who is sincerely for (joining) NATO and the European Union,” Omelyan said. “(Zelenskiy) doesn’t exist, he has no team, he has no vision.”
6:40 p.m. Twenty minutes before the debate is set to begin, the crowd is still filling the stadium. It’s a far cry from a traditional presidential debate: Poroshenko and Zelenskiy set separate stages on the stadium’s field and divided the field into two fan zones for their supporters. In between the fan zones, there is a line of police. Police reported that 10,000 officers will be guarding the debate.
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