Article published on the PRI website on April 20th, 2019
April 20, 2019 · 9:00 AM EDT
By Fabrice Deprez
Yury Milobog, a local deputy in the industrial city of Kryvyi Rih in eastern Ukraine, likes to tell the story of how he once helped presidential hopeful Volodmyr Zelenskiy participate in a comedy show in Russia.
It was 1998, and then 20-year-old Zelenskiy had just created 95 Kvartal, or Quarter 95, a comedy group named after a Kryvyi Rih neighborhood.
Milobog had opened a shop near the university where Zelenskiy was a student and one day, Zelenskiy approached him with a request. The young Zelenskiy was raising funds to participate in the next season of KVN, a Russian improv comedy competition dating back to the Soviet Union.
“He was straightforward, so I decided to help him,” Milobog says.
He gave the group a hundred dollars to pay for the train to Sochi, a seaside resort in southern Russia where the competition took place. It wasn’t for nothing: 95 Kvartal would end up winning multiple seasons of KVN and make its “captain” — Volodymyr Zelenskiy — Kryvyi Rih’s most famous personality.
Now, the possibility of Zelenskiy’s win in Ukraine’s presidential elections has catapulted Kryvyi Rih into the spotlight, an unusual situation for this remote, industrial city.
Polls conducted between Ukraine’s two election rounds now see Zelenskiy poised to win the presidency on Sunday, April 21, by a landslide, with several surveys saying the comedian could capture more than 70% of the vote. In the first round on March 31, polling stations across Kryvyi Rih recorded votes of over 50% for the comedian, while incumbent president Petro Poroshenko was unable to gather more than 7% of the vote.
Neither Milobog nor anyone in the city expected Zelenskiy to become known as a political figure who, in early 2019, jumped into Ukraine’s presidential race despite a total local of experience, and went on to emerge as the surprise front-runner of the election.
“We are a bit isolated from the rest of Ukraine, people are focused on themselves here,” says Yuliy Morozov, a local activist.