Sat, 20 Jul 2019

KHARKIV, Ukraine - Rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk had no problem attracting thousands of screaming fans to Kharkiv's Freedom Square for a performance with his band a couple weeks back. Getting politically wary Ukrainians amped up enough to vote for his party in the July 21 parliamentary elections may not be so easy.

The challenge came across loud and clear in the contrast between the exuberant crowd at the concert and the far smaller, lackluster group at a campaign rally that proceeded it -- as well as one the next day in the provincial city of Slovyansk, near the front lines in the conflict against Russia-backed separatists that has loomed over politics in Ukraine for half a decade.

There's a very fresh precedent for a successful shift from big-time entertainment to big-time politics in Ukraine: Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy parlayed the fame he gained playing an accidental president in a TV sitcom into a landslide win in the real presidential election in April.

Zelenskiy's victory over an increasingly unpopular incumbent underscored voters' hunger for change and distaste with familiar faces in politics five years after protesters -- incensed at corruption and determined to avert a turn toward Moscow -- pushed President Viktor Yanukovych from power and ushered in a new era.

The comedian's swift climb to the presidency might seem to bode well for the musician, who is leading his party - the perhaps aptly named Holos, which means both 'voice' and 'vote' in Ukrainian - in the snap elections called by Zelenskiy after he ordered the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada, the country's legislature.

In an interview on a sun-baked roadside after the rally in Slovyansk on July 1, the rock star took a swipe at established politicians he suggested had abandoned the interests of the people, and vowed to do better.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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