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Klitschko Shows Commanding Lead In Kyiv Mayoral Race

UDAR party leader Vitali Klitschko greets people during a Euromaidan rally at Independence Square in Kyiv in December.
KYIV -- With less than a month until key elections in Ukraine, former heavyweight champion and opposition figure Vitali Klitschko appears to enjoy a commanding lead in the Kyiv mayoral race.

Fresh poll data from the nongovernmental Razumkov public policy center suggest that just over half of all Kyiv residents planning to participate in the May 25 elections intend to vote for Klitschko, who heads the UDAR party.

Volodymyr Bondarenko, a Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) lawmaker who has served as the capital's caretaker mayor since March 7, is a distant second, with just over 10 percent, according to the April 26 poll.

The remaining candidates -- Mykola Katerynchuk (Batkivshchyna), Andriy Illienko (Svoboda), and Lesya Orobets (independent) -- are trailing with 9.4, 4.2, and 4.1 percent, respectively.

Razumkov director Andriy Bychenko says Klitschko's candidacy appears to have gotten a boost from his active role in the Euromaidan protests, during which he joined forces with Svoboda leader Oleh Tyanybok and current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to form an opposition troika.

All three men were frequent speakers at the three-month protests, and Klitschko in particular was seen as personally challenging protest opponents like titushki thugs.

"Klitschko's behavior during Maidan was clearly well-received," Bychenko said. "His ratings didn't suffer. It's possible they even went up. It's been a way of building popularity among Kyivans -- a very slow way, but a gradual and steady one."

By running for mayor, Klitschko is returning to the site of his first foray into politics. He placed second in the city's mayoral contest in 2006, losing to Leonid Chernovetsky, who stepped down from the post in 2012 amid mounting public anger over corruption and cronyism in the Kyiv city government.

Klitschko had hoped to parlay his Euromaidan credentials into a presidential run. But he ultimately stepped aside following a deal with political ally Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire who is expected to face a close contest against Orange Revolution figurehead Yulia Tymoshenko in the presidential vote, also scheduled for May 25.
Vitali Klitschko (left) and Petro Poroshenko, confectionery billionaire and presidential candidate, look at a laptop computer in the pews of parliament in early April.
Vitali Klitschko (left) and Petro Poroshenko, confectionery billionaire and presidential candidate, look at a laptop computer in the pews of parliament in early April.

Poroshenko, the head of his self-formed Solidarity Party, has also received high poll marks among Kyivans as a trusted political figure, Bychenko said. Members of the formerly dominant Party of Regions, including ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych and current presidential candidate Serhiy Tihipko, scored lowest in Kyiv in terms of public trust.

The same poll reflected an apparent contradiction in the mood of Kyivans two months after the bloody climax of the Euromaidan protests. While 42 percent of city residents say events in the capital are on the right track, only 17 percent say they see the current situation in the city as peaceful or prosperous.

"It's possible they are looking not only at the situation in the capital, but the situation in the entire country overall," says Mykhaylo Mishchenko, deputy director of the Razumkov center. "You can't separate the capital from the rest of the country. It's clear that respondents were talking about their own social and psychological state of mind as it relates to everything that's been going on, including in the east."
Written in Prague by Daisy Sindelar based on reporting in Kyiv by Yana Polyanska