The sitcom that spawned a president

Ian Bateson in 1843 Magazine:

The president of Ukraine sits in his office, a glum look on his face. He has just been trounced in the election by a political outsider, and isn’t taking it well. When his successor, Vasyl Holoborodko, tries to move into his office, the outgoing president shoots at him through the door with a shotgun, just missing his target. He’s refusing to leave until his demands are met, says an aide: he wants a litre of vodka, several packs of cigarettes and political asylum in Yugoslavia. “But Yugoslavia doesn’t even exist anymore,” says Holoborodko. “He knows, that’s why he asked for the vodka,” the aide replies.

The mix of slapstick and satire is typical of “Servant of the People”, a television show that has gripped Ukrainian audiences since 2015. In an astonishing example of life imitating art, Volodymyr Zelensky, the actor and comedian who plays Holoborodko, was elected this month as Ukraine’s president. Despite having no political experience whatsoever, he managed to defeat Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent of five years, with a whopping 73% of the vote. Poroshenko graciously accepted defeat and congratulated Zelensky. Aleksey Kiryushchenko, the actor who plays Zelensky’s on-screen opponent, is also the showrunner of “Servant of the People”, responsible for developing the storyline and producing and directing the show. But now that his star is too busy having meetings with foreign dignitaries and members of parliament, Kiryushchenko is saying goodbye. “We can’t have the show without its hero,” he tells me matter of factly. We are sitting in the canteen of Kvartal 95, Zelensky’s production company, which is housed in a converted Soviet apartment block in Kiev. “There were three seasons, and the fourth is happening now before our eyes,” Kiryushchenko tells me. “It has become reality.”

More here.