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Ukrainian actor turned presidential frontrunner says politics 'not the movies'

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Kiev (AFP)

Ukrainian comedy actor Volodymyr Zelensky, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of this month's presidential vote, told AFP on Wednesday that he is running to help the people of his war-torn country.

"This isn't in the movies, it's real life, but I really do want to help Ukraine... I want to help our people," said the 41-year-old, whose only previous political experience has been playing the country's president in a television show.

He gave an interview after filming the latest episode of the series "Servant of the People," where he plays a history teacher who has been elected president of Ukraine.

"If people believe in me and I want it myself, then maybe I can change something," he said. "At the very least, I can bring as many decent new people as possible into politics."

The popular actor and successful businessman has brought an element of surprise into the race, previously expected to be a duel between two veteran heavyweights: incumbent Petro Poroshenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to the latest opinion polls published this week by Rating Group, 25 percent of Ukrainians who have made up their minds will back Zelensky, far ahead of the 16.6 percent for Poroshenko and 16.1 percent for Tymoshenko.

Zelensky's supporters say he brings something fresh to the country's political scene, which has been discredited by years of in-fighting and corruption scandals.

Yet his detractors question his ability to lead a country of 45 million going through an armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists while also facing a very tough economic situation and ubiquitous corruption.

"No, I have no experience," he conceded, but stressed that he has "enough strength, enough energy."

"I don't have all the knowledge but I'm learning this now... I don't want to look like an idiot," he insisted.

"I have people around me who want to come and help," he said. "I think we can pull it off."

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