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Marry the president, cheap gas and peace: Ukraine’s would-be leaders are making big promises

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Marry the president, cheap gas and peace: Ukraine’s would-be leaders are making big promises
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Mykola Usatyi
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“Would you like to become a wife of a president? Ihor Shevchenko is looking for a sweetheart”, say the election campaign posters of the former ecology and natural resources minister of Ukraine.

In a black tie with a rose in his hand Shevchenko encourages potential wives to register at his website: asking for their name, photos and a link to their Instagram account.

The same website also contains Shevchenko’s political programme set out in just over 1,000 words at the time of publication, though he is promising more detail soon.

The election campaign in Ukraine is in full swing and Shevchenko is one of 44 candidates running for the presidency. Many, like him, are trying to win the hearts of the electorate through enormous roadside billboards and often even bigger pledges. Besides marriage, promising peace for the country’s war-torn east, stability, jobs, medicine and lower gas prices. Euronews has looked into the most interesting examples of Ukrainian electoral creativity and designs.

Names and faces

“The country will start working - Taruta the Economist”, says this billboard promoting Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian businessman, sometimes referred to as an oligarch. He is also a current member of the Ukrainian parliament and former governor of the Donetsk region.

© Mykola Usatyi

Yuriy Boyko, a former deputy prime minister and ally of ousted president Viktor Yanukovich chose to focus on his name writ large. The poster also reads “Peace in Ukraine”. It is signed by Opposition platform - for life - the political collective he currently represents. It’s a central-left Russophile party, one of many that were formed out of the wreckage of the “Party of Regions” which was ejected from power after the “Maidan revolution” of 2013/2014. Those events were the catalyst that began an ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east.

Another child of the Party of Regions is known as the Oppositional Block. Oppoblock, as it is often called in Ukraine, was shaped with the help of infamous American political consultant and former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, Paul Manafort. On its posters the party says: “Ukraine needs peace and development”.

Oleksandr Vilkul, Oppoblock's candidate is featured on their billboards too, promising to “rebuild stability”.

© Mykola Usatyi

A former member of Oppoblock, Eugeniy Muraev, known for his pro-Russian position, simply introduces himself as “Our president”, he now represents his political party called Nashi ( Ours).

© Mykola Usatyi

The mayor of the western Ukrainian city Lviv since 2006 Andriy Sadovyi says he is

“The only chance for changes - Right now!”

© Olena Liubchenkova

New promises for old problems

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko who has been a part of Ukrainian politics for decades, promises “the changes everyone was waiting for for so long” and pledges to cut energy prices in half, which in Ukraine means gas.

© Mykola Usatyi

Tymoshenko’s opponent, a much less well-known politician called Serhiy Kaplin, promises to reduce gas prices to a quarter of their current cost and create 5 million new jobs in the nation of 42 million people. He is a former member of parliament (from president Petro Poroshenko's bloc) and a leader of the Social-Democratic party.

The Ukrainian government has drastically increased gas prices for households in recent years following demands from the International Monetary Fund. Ukrainians will not start paying for gas based on the market prices until 2020, but already energy tariffs have turned out to be shocking and unmanageable for many, turning the issue into a powerful argument for populists. On one of his posters Yuriy Boyko also promises to bring “normal tariffs back”.

Oleksandr Shevchenko, another unfamiliar face to many, promises “fair tariffs and decent salaries”. He represents UKROP (the Ukrainian Association of Patriots) a nationalist right-wing political power.

© Mykola Usatyi

Olha Bohomolets, a doctor, medical business manager, singer-songwriter and current MP from Poroshenko's bloc is running for the presidency for a second time. In 2014 she attracted almost 2% of votes. On her billboards Bohomolets asserts “A fair retirement benefit is one on which you live, not survive”.

© Mykola Usatyi

Another candidate, Oleg Lyashko, previously jailed for corruption, is leader of a Radical party in his own name. On his billboards, he is pictured with elderly people. “Affordable medicine - it is possible,” it reads. “A decent salary - it is possible,” says another one featuring Lyashko addressing members of a crowd.

© Mykola Usatyi

Popular TV personality Volodymyr Zelensky chose neither to write his name, nor to feature his face on his billboard ads. His poster says: “The spring will show who stole where. Ze [sic] President - is a servant of the people.” The campaign phrase plays on the single letter word difference between the past participle of verbs to shit and the verb to steal, drawing from a popular saying that “The spring will show who shat where”. In Ukraine, the melting snows of March often reveal some unpleasant surprises, the saying suggests.

© Mykola Usatyi

Current president

The billboards started appearing well before the official launch of the election campaign, often featuring current president Poroshenko pointing out his achievements. The first one on this picture is from the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, it says:

“A powerful army is a guarantee of peace: Petro Poroshenko”

“We have stopped the aggressor and saved the country.”

© Mykola Usatyi

Other examples include:

“Many candidates, but the president is one”, “The president is the people’s servant” and “Real actions, not deceitful promises”.

Billboard controversies

The candidates sometimes fight for a place on the billboards: last month former journalist and now presidential candidate Dmytro Gnap said his poster was being censored. The billboards of at least four candidates are accused of breaking electoral rules by omitting information required by law - the name of the publisher, a manager of the campaign, circulation.

Ukrainians will vote on the 31st of March. According to the polls, it’s unlikely that any candidate will receive an absolute majority. In this case a second round of elections will be held on the 21st of April.