KYIV -- А popular Ukrainian actor and prospective presidential candidate appears to have links with several entertainment businesses in Russia, although he denied having any ongoing interests there.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who last month announced his intention to run for president, is connected to three Russian film and TV production companies, according to new information uncovered by Skhemy (Schemes), a joint project by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and the Ukrainian TV channel UA.
The three companies -- Vaisberg Pictures, Platinumfilms, and Green Films -- made about $13 million between 2014 and 2017. They were founded by a Cyprus-registered company -- Green Family LTD, which is also a co-founder of another entertainment firm, Quarter 95. Zelenskiy has publicly acknowledged that he is the owner of Quarter 95.
The issue of Ukrainian presidential candidates owning companies in Russia is controversial, given the ongoing conflict with Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and the simmering war in eastern Ukraine.
Last month, Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media that he had shut down all his businesses in Russia in 2014 after Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea and incited separatism in Ukraine's east.
In a December 25 interview, Zelenskiy also said that his last movie was shot in Russia in 2012 and his last appearance on Russian TV was in 2014.
On January 18, Zelenskiy said in a Facebook video that he was ready to answer questions by the Skhemy journalists after previously refusing to talk to them.
In the video, Zelenskiy said neither he nor his company are involved in any projects in Russia "after what Russia did to Ukraine."
"They in Russia even launched a probe against me because I financially supported our army through Q95," Zelenskiy said.
"We trade with 21 foreign countries, with all the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We sell intellectual rights. The money we get from royalties goes to various Western countries and later returns to Ukraine," Zelenskiy added.
In a separate letter to Skhemy, his office said that Quarter 95 "does not produce any programs on the territory of the Russian Federation now."
Just hours after the campaign period for the March 31 presidential election was launched on December 31, Zelenskiy announced his intention to run on one of his TV shows, saying he would “try to change something in Ukraine.”
Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko has been harshly criticized by the Ukrainian opposition for allegedly owning businesses in Russia.
In September, he claimed that a shipyard he used to own in Russia-annexed Crimea had been taken away from him by Russian authorities and he does not own it anymore.
Poroshenko also said that he had shut down his chocolate factory in the Russian city of Lipetsk in 2014 after he became president.
The West has imposed sanctions on Russia and those doing business there in the aftermath of the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.
Poroshenko has not yet officially announced he will seek a second five-year term but is widely expected to.
After taking 54 percent of the vote in the 2014 election, Poroshenko's public approval ratings have plummeted amid ongoing economic woes and a lack of progress in the fight against corruption.
Poroshenko's main rival appears to be former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is credited in the most recent opinion polls with 12.7 percent.
The same poll conducted in December unexpectedly put 40-year-old Zelenskiy in second place, with 9 percent, while Poroshenko came in third, with 8.6 percent.
Zelenskiy currently stars in the popular television comedy series Servant Of The People, where he portrays a regular schoolteacher who becomes president.
The Central Election Commission should announce a final list of presidential candidates by February 8.