Ukraine sees most unusual president Zelensky

AFP . Kiev | Update:

Canada`s prime minister Justin Trudeau (R) meets with Ukraine`s president Volodymyr Zelensky during a bilateral meeting of the Ukraine Reform Conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 2 July 2019. Photo: ReutersDuring his first two months as Ukraine's leader, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has not yet done anything that would affect ordinary lives, but has completely changed the style of the country's presidency.

The 41-year-old has played a twofold game, underlining that he is a man of the people while attacking the traditional political class that he has denounced as corrupt.

Here is a recap of his most unusual moves as president ahead of Sunday's elections when Ukrainians will elect a new parliament.

Kisses and selfies 

During his inauguration on 20 May, Zelensky arrived at Ukraine's parliament from his nearby home by foot.

He gave high-fives to people who lined the streets of Kiev, and even jumped up to kiss a friend on his forehead.

During his inaugural speech, he announced the dissolution of parliament and early elections which are to be held on Sunday.

He also called on officials not to hang his photographs in their offices.

"The president is not an icon, he is not an idol," he said. "Hang photographs of your children and look them in the eye when you make your decisions."

Informal dress code 

Unlike previous Ukrainian presidents who wore formal suits, Zelensky often appears at meetings without a tie and sometimes without a jacket -- even when it comes to high-ranking foreign guests.

During a meeting with German and French foreign ministers in May he appeared in a dark shirt with rolled-up sleeves.

Zelensky wore a blue shirt under a bulletproof vest during his first visit to the frontline in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev is fighting pro-Russia separatists, in contrast to his predecessor Petro Poroshenko who always wore a military uniform when visiting the war zone.

Running through a fountain 

During a recent visit to Mariupol, Zelensky surprised crowds by running through a park fountain with children in the summer heat.

He did so in front of surprised residents, then jumped into a car and drove away.

Relocating presidential offices 

In June, Zelensky announced a controversial plan to move the presidential administration from a hulking Soviet-era building in central Kiev to a multifunctional complex that holds exhibitions and forums.

The president has told AFP that he was "very uncomfortable" in the building where all Ukrainian presidents previously worked and once said that a terminal inside Kiev's Boryspil airport would be a good place for his office.

Cancelling military parades 

This month Zelensky made a surprise decision to cancel the Independence Day military parade planned for August -- one of the country's key events since the beginning of a war with Russia-backed separatists in the east that has claimed around 13,000 lives.

Instead he promised to allocate 300 million hryvnia (more than 10 million euros) as awards to Ukrainian soldiers.

Shouting at officials 

The new president is already known for publicly bashing bureaucrats.

During a meeting in mid-July he shouted at an official in a crowded room after finding out about his "criminal past" on the internet.

"Get out of here, you bandit," Zelensky shouted.

More recently he asked an official: "Why do you treat people like cattle?" and made him publicly promise to resign.

Analyst Volodymyr Fesenko believes that the president's behaviour is popular among voters and has contributed to his rising approval ratings.

Tesla instead of a bike 

As a comedian, Zelensky played a fictional president in the TV series "Servant of the people" in which he rides a bike to work.

As a candidate, he constantly criticised government officials for their expensive cars and motorcades.

But soon after his inauguration Zelensky acknowledged that he cannot ride a bike to work for security reasons.

"What do you mean? I will be shot dead," he told a group of journalists including AFP.

Zelensky has also posted a video in which he addresses Ukrainians while driving a Tesla.

He continues to use the presidential plane, though he promised to take regular flights.

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