Ukraine President takes drug test before debating comedian

Challenger dominates first round of voting

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Ukraine's sensational presidential election campaign took another surreal twist on Friday, as the incumbent and his comedian challenger, Volodymr Zelensky, both underwent blood tests on live television ahead of a debate.

Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience who played the role of the country's President on a sitcom for three years, is the frontrunner in the race after winning the first round of voting.

A drug and alcohol test was one of his conditions for taking part in a debate with Petro Poroshenko, as the incumbent seeks to make up ground ahead of the run-off on April 21.

Poroshenko, who has been in his post since 2014, agreed to the stipulation, live-streaming his test on Facebook. "We are creating new traditions," he said as his blood was taken, according to Agence France-Presse.

Reporters watched on a television screen as the test took place in another room at Kiev's Olympic Stadium, where the debate is set to take place -- as per another of Zelensky's demands.

The initial results came back negative, doctors said. Zelensky took his own test at a private clinic, after refusing Poroshenko's offer to take them together.

"I had my blood drawn, they drained me of all my blood. There's a lot of it, my young blood," the comedian told reporters, in an apparent joke at his challenger's age.

The incident ensured the race between the two candidates descended further into a media spectacle, which will only continue when the two face off in a debate inside Kiev's 70,000-seat stadium -- the nation's largest arena, which was renovated for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.

The event -- in a stadium where Madonna, Shakira and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have performed in recent years -- reflects the huge domestic interest in the race.

Ahead of the showpiece, Zelensky released a slickly produced video shot inside the stadium.

The comedian made his name starring in "Servant of the People" -- a Ukrainian television series now carried on Netflix -- as a down-and-out schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes President of Ukraine.

But life imitated art as the star leapt into the lead in opinion polls, despite his campaign initially being dismissed as a joke. He ultimately dominated the first round of voting in March, picking up 30% of votes cast compared to Poroshenko's 16%.

But the surreal race comes at a serious time for Ukraine, which has spent five years locked in a proxy war with Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet Poroshenko next week, her office has confirmed.

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