Culture, Travel & Sport

Ukraine’s celebrity parliament

Ukraine’s snap parliamentary elections on July 21 were cited as historic by a number of commentators. For a start, it was the first time in the history of Ukraine’s young democracy that a single party – President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Sluha Narodu – won an absolute majority with no need for a coalition partner. Secondly, the elections will also be viewed as historic for the record number of celebrities who became members of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.

The entertainers

One of the most remarkably surprising candidates of this election was Mikola Tischenko, who was elected MP in one of Kyiv’s electoral districts. A culinary critic and the owner of several restaurant chains across the country, Mr Tischenko is known for hosting the Ukrainian edition of MasterChef. Ukrainians can also recognise him from the reality show Revizor and his performance on Dancing with the Stars. As a lawmaker, he has promised to shift his focus to national security, the fight against corruption, and supporting children in his electoral district.

“I entered politics because I was fed up. (…) Fed up listening to my friends saying that they want to move to another country,” wrote the Kyiv Informator, quoting another star, Oleksandr Skichko. The 28-year-old showman, who was also a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is a well-known TV presenter who hosted the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Born in Cherkasy, he will now have the chance to represent his home town and its region.

Another young actor having won a seat in the Verkhovna Rada is Roman Hryshchuk. Similar to the Ukrainian president, the 29-year-old newcomer also worked as a comedian and TV entertainer. Representing a constituency in Kyiv, he has vowed to support Ukraine’s young entrepreneurs and work for a better culture policy.

The Kvartal 95 studio, which first made Mr Zelensky famous, will send another entertainer to the political frontline. Before the elections, Yuriy Koryavchenkov was working as the studio’s administrative director. He also played an anti-corruption investigator in Kvartal 95’s Servant of the People, the series in which Mr Zelensky played the role of the president. He now advocates bringing more medical investment to Kryvyi Rih, his constituency close to Dnipropetrovsk.

The sportspeople

Among the many new MPs to the Verkhovna Rada are two leading sportspeople. One of them is Zhan Beleniuk, a 28-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler. Born of a Ukrainian father and a Rwandan mother, Mr Beleniuk has represented Ukraine in several international championships and won a silver medal at in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. From September, he is going to be the first ever lawmaker in the Verkhovna Rada of African origin. Unsurprisingly, his plans include a Ukraine with better sports facilities and a better healthcare service.

Having gained a seat on Sluha Narodu’s party list, Olha Saladukha is another MP who will advocate for a healthier Ukraine. As an athlete, she has been competing in international sports events since 1999 and has won numerous European and World Championship medals in triple jumping.

Stars with experience

Not all of Ukraine’s celebrity newcomers lack experience in dealing with politics. Aleksander Dubinsky, who defeated a close ally to former president Petro Poroshenko in one of Kyiv’s constituencies, previously worked as a TV host at Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel where he ran an investigative programme exposing corruption and fraud. He is also known as a blogger and has a YouTube channel followed by more than 300,000 people.

Another example is Aleksander Kunitsky, a newly elected MP from the Kharkiv region. In Ukraine, he is better known as Zpsanek, a vlogger experienced in investigative journalism and followed by a million Ukrainians.

The artists

Geo Leros, who became a lawmaker winning in a seat on the list of Mr Zelensky’s party, comes from the world of the arta. A Kyiv-based director, he is better known as an artistic curator and expert and photographer who runs his own business. He does not lack experience of public office: he previously worked for Ukraine’s information ministry. He has vowed to develop the country’s cultural policies.

Last but not least comes Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (pictured above). The famous Ukrainian musician is the sole lawmaker on our list who does not belong to the Sluha Narodu party. He is the founder and chairman of the Holos (Voice) party, a liberal and pro-European political movement with a tough anti-corruption agenda.

As for Mr Vakarchuk himself, he is better known as the lead vocalist of Okean Elzy (the Ocean of Elza), one of the most popular Ukrainian rock bands.

In 2007, Vakarchuk was a deputy in the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, but decided to renounce his seat a year later. “I was really frustrated by the level of mutual fights, at the absurd Hobbesian world of all against all, rather than changing the country for the better,” he said in 2008.

Although he has now returned to politics and looks set for a fresh start, he has promised that he would continue singing with his band.

Read more about the new MPs here.