Meet Ukraine’s Presidential Candidates

Who’s Who In A Crowded Field

Ukraine’s presidential race is on, with a record-breaking 44 of at least 89 applicants green-lighted to run. The field is arguably the most diverse in the country’s independent history, with veteran politicians vying against a comedian, journalists, war veterans, career spies, accused criminals, and more. Each may now canvass an electorate that independent polls say is deeply divided or undecided about who can best steer Ukraine through much-needed reforms and out of a Russia-backed conflict that’s been bleeding the country since Kyiv adopted a more westward path in 2014. It’s a wide-open contest, although a handful of candidates appear to stand far better chances when ballots are cast in the first of two possible rounds of voting.

Key Dates

  • December 30

    Campaigning can begin

  • Dec. 31-Feb. 4


  • February 9

    End of candidate registration

  • March 7

    Last day to withdraw

  • March 31

    Election day

  • By April 10

    First-round results

  • April 21

    Second-round runoff (if needed)

  • By May 1

    Final results

  • June 3


The winner will inherit a country that has made some strides in the past five years but largely failed to shake entrenched corruption and remains a target of Russian destabilization efforts. Potentially reliant on Western partners who have helped to keep Kyiv afloat through crisis and conflict, any Ukrainian president faces the difficult task of maintaining those ties while pursuing peace with Russia-backed separatists and making occasionally unpopular decisions that are sure to reflect in the polls. Just ask the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, whose uphill battle is a testament to the fact that just one of his predecessors has won reelection since Ukrainian independence in 1991.

Who Can't Vote

About 12 percent of Ukraine’s 44 million people face major practical obstacles to voting. They include displaced persons from the war-torn Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are not under government control, as well as Russian-held Crimea. Historically, voters from those areas have backed candidates who promote closer ties to Russia. Polls show incumbent Poroshenko deeply unpopular there. Ukrainian nationals residing or working in Russia will be unable to vote there so must visit a consulate in a third country or return to Ukraine to cast their ballot.

Top Contenders

Experts and pollsters say these six candidates stand the best chance on March 31.

"We have gotten further from Moscow and closer to Europe.... Nothing should turn us back.”
The Chocolate King
Petro Poroshenko
53 years old
  • Incumbent. Candy billionaire
  • Key in push for independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine
  • Petro Poroshenko Bloc ‘Solidarity’
  • Has faltered on reforms, anticorruption efforts
“If during the first 100 days I...can’t break the old system and show clear results, I’ll step down as president.”
The Veteran Populist
Yulia Tymoshenko
58 years old
  • Ex-prime minister
  • Orange revolutionary
  • Beloved by some, reviled by others
  • Once jailed over Russian gas deal
  • Fatherland party
“Unlike our great politicians, I did not want to make promises in vain. But...I can promise you I'll do it the right way.”
The Sitcom President
Volodymyr Zelenskyy
41 years old
  • Top funny man
  • On TV, plays smalltown teacher-turned-’Servant Of The People’
  • Rumored to be backed by a controversial oligarch
  • Ties to Russian companies, but denies any current projects there
“The country is immersed in an atmosphere of fear.”
The Pro-Russian
Yuriy Boyko
60 years old
  • Former energy minister, deputy PM
  • Accused Poroshenko of trying to cancel election
  • Onetime Yanukovych ally popular in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine
“Enlightened authoritarianism takes a country to a new, higher level of economic development and democracy.”
The Enlightened Authoritarian
Anatoliy Hrytsenko
61 years old
  • Ex-defense minister
  • Third run for presidency
  • Runs as “honest” alternative who will bring a “strong hand”
  • Civil Position party
“I will bring the death penalty for corruption to a referendum.”
The Radical Populist
Oleh Lyashko
46 years old
  • Fiery lawmaker known to block parliamentary rostrum
  • 3rd in 2014 race
  • Wants death penalty for corruption, treason, and terrorism
  • Radical Party

The Rest Of The Pack

Experts don’t give them much of a chance, but they paid the roughly $90,000 registration fee and may just be able to influence the outcome and make a name for themselves in the process.

“In our country...either you are a slave, or you are an enemy. We will not be slaves.”
The Liberal Conservative
Andriy Sadovyy
50 years old
  • Mayor of Lviv
  • A 2017 landfill scandal dented his reputation
  • Self-Reliance party
“The current authorities now judge people with ‘Who was on the Maidan? Who was not? Who loves Ukraine more? Who less?’”
The Other Pro-Russian
Oleksandr Vilkul
44 years old
  • Former deputy PM
  • Erstwhile Yanukovych ally
  • Head of Opposition Bloc
  • Evaded prosecution in land-lease scandal
“As long as they are in power, and we are out of power, nothing will change.”
The Investigative Journalist
Dmytro Hnap
41 years old
  • Joined politics last year
  • Co-producer of ‘Killing Pavel’ on 2016 journalist assassination
  • People’s Force party
"They said I had U.K., Hungarian, and Israeli citizenship. Unfortunately, I don’t have them. I wish I did."
The Accused Embezzler
Roman Nasirov
39 years old
  • Former head of State Fiscal Service
  • Poroshenko ally
  • Fell “ill” upon arrest in state embezzlement case
  • His release in that litmus test was panned within civil society
“Nobody sees me on TV as a separatist but as a person who financed the defense of Mariupol.”
The Woody Allen Lookalike
Serhiy Taruta
63 years old
  • Former Donetsk governor
  • Brief gubernatorial appointment at height of Russia-backed conflict
  • Nationwide billboard campaign seen as short on ideas
  • Foundation party
“Maidan is not just a place but a state of mind.”
The Maidan Doctor
Olha Bohomolets
52 years old
  • Ukrainian- and U.S.-trained physician who treated injured Euromaidan protesters
  • Official roles under ex-President Yushchenko and Poroshenko
  • Finished under 2% in 2014 presidential race
  • Critic of recent health reforms
“Break the backs of those who don’t respect the law.”
The Confessed ‘Sexist’
Ilya Kiva
41 years old
  • Interior Ministry adviser
  • Dismissed as counternarcotics chief
  • Quoted Bible verse to suggest homosexuality should be punished
  • Uncovered as commander of illegal paramilitary unit within National Police
  • Socialist Party of Ukraine
“There are no grown-ups to sit at the table anymore.”
The Spy Chief
Valentyn Nalyvaychenko
52 years old
  • Security Service (SBU) head under Presidents Yushchenko and Poroshenko
  • Reports link him to oligarch facing U.S. racketeering charges
  • Sacked at SBU amid corruption debate
  • Justice party
“Russia will go as far as we allow them.”
The General
Ihor Smeshko
63 years old
  • Soldier, scholar, diplomat
  • Linked to many political crucibles in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history
  • Including the dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko
  • Strength And Honor movement
“I will not agitate for myself.”
The Building-Stormer
Oleksandr Danilyuk
37 years old
  • Led Euromaidan raid of ministries of Justice, Energy, Agriculture
  • Refuses to campaign
  • Onetime Defense Ministry adviser
“Join forces, discard your ambitions...and choose not the best-rated among us but the worthiest, the most professional candidate."
The Mad Hatter Of Davos
Ihor Shevchenko
48 years old
  • Former ecology and natural resources minister
  • “Beaniegate” at Davos dogged him on social media
  • Founded Ukrainian Bar Association
“I didn’t vote [for LGBTQ rights]...because our ancestors, Cossacks, would have trampled those people with their horses.”
The Socialist Adrift
Serhiy Kaplin
39 years old
  • Lost a bruising battle for the Socialist Party
  • Wants to nationalize strategic enterprises
  • Argues for shrinking the legislature
  • Started his own Social-Democratic Party
“Ukraine’s future democracy will be a liberal democracy, but it will not be a direct copy of anybody else’s model.”
The Economist
Vitaliy Skotsyk
46 years old
  • Educated in agriculture and economics
  • Former CEO in Ukraine and abroad
  • Advocates talks with Russia to restore borders
  • Agrarian Party
"For the United States, we will remain a neocolony and a territory with which to engage in a geopolitical cold war with Russia."
The Pro-Russian Media Boss
Yevhen Murayev
42 years old
  • Lawmaker and staunch government critic
  • Recently sold stake in NewsOne to launch new TV channel
  • Nashi TV aligns with his identically named party
“I am determined to change the system of power because that’s the key issue for Ukraine today.”
The Old Socialist
Oleksandr Moroz
74 years old
  • Speaker of parliament in the 1990s and in 2006-07
  • Finished 3rd in 2004 presidential race
  • Faded along with fellow Socialists after 2007 election drubbing
“Only nationalists can stop the Kremlin’s agents.”
The Far-Right Lite
Ruslan Koshulynskyy
49 years old
  • Less controversial than many of his fellow nationalists
  • Saw combat duty after national mobilization in 2015
  • Wants to tax oligarchs to fund national defense
  • Nominated by a coalition of far-right groups
“The nation deserves the authorities it elects.”
The ‘Responsible’ Lawmaker
Dmytro Dobrodomov
42 years old
  • Has co-authored dozens of bills in parliament
  • Including one of Ukraine’s biggest post-2014 achievements, creation of the National Anticorruption Bureau
  • People’s Control Public Movement
“Kill ‘gopniks’ crossing the border [from Russia] who illegally conduct extremist activities on our territory.”
The ‘Anti-Gopnik’ Candidate
Hennadiy Balashov
57 years old
  • Maidan activist with a penchant for video blogging
  • Advocates taking on Moscow and its “gangsters” meddling in Ukraine
  • Wants radical reform of the tax system
  • His “5.10” party espouses libertarianism
“You should think before pushing the ‘post’ button.”
The Peacemaker
Roman Bezsmertnyy
53 years old
  • Veteran political and diplomatic hand
  • Orange revolutionary
  • Represented Kyiv in Minsk peace talks with Russia and separatists
“I want to make a Ukrainian Singapore in the heart of Europe.”
The ‘Ukrainian Singapore’ Guy
Viktor Bondar
43 years old
  • Former minister of transport and communication
  • Has sought to shed his association with the Moscow-friendly Party Of Regions
  • But his public views haven’t changed much
  • Revival party
“Most voters don’t go to the polls because they’re lazy, while others go and choose people who’ve deceived them more than once.”
The Scientist
Mykola Haber
58 years old
  • Former chemistry and biology teacher
  • Authored dozens of scientific articles
  • Won just 0.12% in the 1999 presidential race
“I’m ready to become an icebreaker and, with my heart, warm this ice and melt it.”
The Flip-Flopper ‘Nobody Likes’
Inna Bohoslovska
58 years old
  • Switched allegiance from the ruling Party Of Regions during Euromaidan
  • Has struggled to find pro-Western allies
  • Union party
“We need to streamline and legalize [the cryptocurrency market], which will be the engine of a new economy.”
The Crypto-Candidate
Yuriy Derevyanko
45 years old
  • Progressive-minded lawmaker
  • Former ally of reformist turned outcast Mikheil Saakashvili
  • Freedom (Volya) party
“More sweat equals less blood.”
The Commander
Serhiy Kryvonos
48 years old
  • War veteran
  • First deputy commander of the Army Special Operations Forces
  • Led defense of Kramatorsk Airport in 2014
“We should expect dirt to be thrown at us. Let it be watered and we will sprout!”
The Expellee
Viktor Kryvenko
37 years old
  • Former Space Agency deputy director
  • Tossed from Self-Reliance party for supporting decentralization
  • People's Movement of Ukraine
“Our interests cannot be defended by a weak president who pays half a million dollars for a meeting with Trump.”
The Sailor
Vitaliy Kupriy
45 years old
  • Likes to pose in a sailor’s cap aboard his yacht
  • Claims Poroshenko is responsible for “the chaos in Ukraine”
“For Ukraine, Brexit is a good case for the economic interests of the state coming first.”
The Blogging Money Man
Serhiy Nosenko
49 years old
  • Blogs about global business and politics on a popular news site
  • Investment consultant
“Information war is no less terrible than real war.”
The Port Manager
Ruslan Rihovanov
44 years old
  • Acting head of a fishing port
  • Vocal critic of Russia’s squeeze to control the Azov and Black Sea
  • Native of Horlivka, a region in Donetsk now under separatist control
“Appropriate conditions for normal investments in Ukraine don’t exist."
The Agrarian Entrepreneur
Arkadiy Kornatskyy
65 years old
  • His business ran afoul of Yanukovych-era officials
  • Offering a “rural policy” to reinvigorate agricultural areas
“Why do we have to fight for a Ukrainian language quota [for media] in Ukraine?”
The Skier
Oleksandr Shevchenko
47 years old
  • Former director of the Bukovel Ski Resort
  • Touts a “dignity and truth” program
  • Ukrainian Association of Patriots, a right-wing nationalist party
"We need to restore order at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, clean out the waste, and enable the plant to operate normally."
The ‘Chernobyl Fraud’ Guy
Oleksandr Vashchenko
57 years old
  • Chairman of NGO Power Of The People
  • President of International Center For Economics And Law
  • Claims Chernobyl was forced closed by foreign powers to prevent energy independence
“[I’m] the first presidential candidate in Ukraine’s history to lead his election campaign from under house arrest.”
The Guy Under House Arrest
Volodymyr Petrov
41 years old
  • Political analyst
  • Under house arrest for allegedly violating privacy of police official
  • Called on supporters to drink to his candidacy
“Some would say my face is not small. But I eat from my own plate and pay for myself.”
The Soccer League Chairman
Vasyl Zhuravlev
48 years old
  • Lives in war-torn city of Mariupol
  • Chairman of the local soccer federation
  • Stability party
“The current political and economic activities of those in power have led to robbery.”
The Self-Proclaimed Cossack Hetman
Yuriy Karmazin
61 years old
  • Politician and judge
  • Claims to be commander of all Ukrainian Cossacks
  • Helped organize anti-Poroshenko protests
  • Lost bid for Kyiv mayorship
“I know everyone in Ukrainian politics…. It’s such a badly damaged system of the same characters.”
The ‘Extreme Conservative’
Yulia Lytvynenko
42 years old
  • Veteran TV reporter and presenter
  • Says her stardom makes her more popular than politicians
  • Self-described “extreme conservative” and Thatcherite
“Money coming from the IMF and the European Union doesn’t help the country to develop.”
The ‘Sex Symbol’ Economist
Andriy Novak
46 years old
  • Patriot Party
  • Economist who likes to appear on TV and in media
  • His Wikipedia page describes him as a “sex symbol”
“I’m backed by simple farmers. I’m not beholden to any oligarch.”
The Possible ‘Clone’
Yuriy Tymoshenko
57 years old
  • Lawmaker. Member of Committee to Combat Corruption
  • Accused of being “clone” candidate to mislead voters
  • Has the same initials in Ukrainian and English -- Y.V.T. -- as rival candidate Yulia Tymoshenko
“[Poroshenko and lawmakers] took away Ukrainian citizens’ right to choose which country they want to live in.”
The Anti-NATO Guy From Donbas
Oleksandr Solovyov
45 years old
  • Native of eastern Ukraine’s industrial, war-riven heartland
  • Believes Poroshenko should have held a referendum on EU, NATO aspirations
  • Reasonable Force party

Just Watching, Thanks

A few notable political figures either were among the dozens of hopefuls rejected by the Central Election Commission or opted not to run.

“The destruction of Lenin’s monuments became the idée fixe of the [Poroshenko] regime.”
The ‘Banned’ Communist
Petro Symonenko
66 years old
  • Communist Party first secretary for over two decades
  • Denied registration over use of now-banned Communist symbols
  • Ran in the 1999, 2004, 2010, and 2014 presidential races
“Look, you know, politics is not the best thing in the world. Definitely not the cleanest.”
Arseniy Yatsenyuk
44 years old
  • Former economy and foreign minister
  • PM after Yanukovych fled in 2014, lost support over accusations of inaction and corruption
  • Once a Washington fave
  • People’s Front
“Our nation’s historic to lead the final march of the white race towards its survival.”
The Far-Right Battalion Commander
Andriy Biletsky
39 years old
  • Led the far-right Azov volunteer battalion early in the current conflict
  • Has led a growing ultranationalist street movement
  • Was polling at under 1% support
"There can be peace [in Ukraine] only through war.”
The Disgraced Hero
Nadia Savchenko
37 years old
  • The country’s first female military helicopter navigator
  • Named “Hero Of Ukraine” after capture and Russian imprisonment
  • Battered since entering parliament
  • In jail awaiting trial over purported coup plot
  • Claims authorities won’t let her run but didn’t pay registration fee
“Wearing jeans, I can do more [for Ukraine] than if I wear a suit and tie.”
The Rock Star
Svyatoslav Vakarchuk
43 years old
  • Ukraine's biggest rock star
  • Teased presidential run for months
  • Job of president not for him, but vows to remain in politics