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Campaigning Ends In Ukraine Ahead Of Presidential Vote

A poster in downtown Kyiv urges Ukrainians to vote in their upcoming presidential election, which is being held on March 31.
A poster in downtown Kyiv urges Ukrainians to vote in their upcoming presidential election, which is being held on March 31.

Candidates in Ukraine’s presidential election spent one final day campaigning on March 29 ahead of the crucial first round vote this weekend.

No campaigning or political advertising is allowed in Ukraine one day ahead of balloting on March 31.

Thirty-nine candidates are vying for the post, but only three are given a realistic chance of winning: the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been the surprise of the campaign, leading in all opinion polls.

Zelenskyy, who stars in a TV comedy series about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral, has tapped into public frustration in Ukraine over the pace of reforms and the fight against graft.

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At a political rally in the western city of Lviv on March 28, Poroshenko alleged that his two top rivals – Zelenskyy and Tymoshenko -- were being financed by self-exiled tycoon Ihor Kolomoyskyy, who splits his time between Israel and Switzerland.

"He has fled abroad, but he is simultaneously moving two figures on the election chessboard," Poroshenko asserted.

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Poroshenko claimed that Kolomoyskyy, a billionaire who has faced investigations and government pressure in Ukraine, wants to "to take revenge against the state" for the 2016 nationalization of his Privatbank.

Poroshenko also said that Vladimir Putin would fail in what he called the Russian president's bid to derail Ukraine's effort to join the European Union and NATO.

"Only the Ukrainian people, not Putin, not anybody else, not oligarchs who sit in Israel, will define what will be the future of Ukraine," he said. "I'm confident of this, and I'm confident that this future will be trans-Atlantic membership, NATO and Europe."

A reported 20,000 people attended the rally in Lviv amid a heavy police presence, which kept several hundred ultraright demonstrators from disrupting it.

Ultraright activists have dogged Poroshenko at his campaign stops across the country, accusing him of corruption and demanding the detention of those linked to a military embezzlement scheme.

Poroshenko has rejected the allegations dating back to 2015 and involving corruption with military procurement.

Meanwhile, Tymoshenko closed her campaign at a rally in Kyiv on March 29.

Tymoshenko, who came to prominence as a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution and has run for president twice before, criticized the lack of progress in putting an end to the war in eastern Ukraine under the current peace talks format, which she called a waste of time.

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Since April 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in fighting between Kyiv's forces and the Russia-backed separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at resolving the conflict -- have contributed to a decrease in fighting but have failed to hold.

"Five years have been lost," the 58-year-old told a crowd of cheering supporters. "We need a new strategy," she said, adding that she wanted the United States to be involved in the talks.

Zelenskyy has pledged that, if elected, he will move forward with the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s interior minister has accused Poroshenko and Tymoshenko of bribing potential voters.

In a statement released late on March 28, Arsen Avakov said that his ministry is looking into hundreds of claims that campaigners for Poroshenko and Tymoshenko were offering money to voters who would promise to cast a ballot for their candidate.

He said most of the complaints, about sixty percent, were leveled at the Poroshenko campaign.

Avakov claimed neutrality, but he has heavily focused on alleged violations by Poroshenko's campaign.

With reporting from UNIAN, Interfax, AP, and AFP