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Ukraine is rising on President Vladimir Zelensky as the former comedian faces challenges

“I want Ukraine to be independent,” Nikolai Mikitenko wrote on Instagram, hours before he set himself on fire in Kiev’s central Maidan Square.

The 49-year-old died on October 14th, three days after his extreme protest in the heart of the country’s capital, where months of massive anti-government demonstrations took place in late 2013 and early 2014.

His daughter Julia told reporters at a memorial event shortly after his death that he was protesting against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Mikitenko, a veteran of the military conflict against Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 1

3,000 lives since it began nearly six years ago, was disappointed with its leader’s policy toward Moscow, she said.

“He did it at night because he didn’t want other people to be hurt,” she said. “Besides, he didn’t want anyone to stop him.”

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who tested positive for coronavirus, chaired an online video conference with government officials earlier this month.The Ukrainian presidential press service through the AP

Fulfilling an anti-corruption ticket and promising to limit the power of the oligarchs, Zelensky, a political novice who played president in a TV series, promised to end the conflict in the east with Russia and improve relations with Moscow before defeating incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in April 2019. г.

But the former comedian’s popularity has waned since he took over the country, which is at the forefront of the West’s confrontation with Russia as it struggles to control the coronavirus pandemic and revive the battered economy.

His approval rating was 46 percent in a national survey conducted by the esteemed think tank of the rating group earlier this month, while 51 percent said they did not trust him. However, this was higher than that of many of his rivals.

Opponents in the 42-million-strong country, where a significant minority of the population uses Russian as a first language, especially in cities and the industrialized East, accuse him of leaning too close to the West.

Others accuse Zelensky, who was hospitalized with Covid-19 earlier this month, of favoring Moscow.

“Winners always lose electoral support in the first year of power in Ukraine,” said Vladimir Panioto, director general of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. He added that people have returned to traditional parties that have mobilized their resources against Zelenski.

This was demonstrated when the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform for Life party – co-chair Viktor Medvedchuk, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin – made a strong success in last month’s local elections.

“They feel the lack of experience and use it against him,” said Alexander Danyliuk, a former head of Ukraine’s national security.

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The outrage over the decision of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine of October 28 also affected Zelensky’s popularity both at home and abroad.

Eleven of the 15 judges removed a mandatory asset register for civil servants and removed some of the most important powers of the key National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption or the NAZK, which lost the right to verify the accuracy of information in officials’ declarations and to carries out inspections in state agencies. Free public access to officials’ declarations has also been made illegal.

The decision also declared it illegal for civil servants to be held criminally liable for misinformation in their asset declarations.

Activists claimed the decision was part of a systematic attempt by the court to dismantle anti-corruption institutions, citing the fact that the lawsuit was filed by 47 pro-Russian lawmakers, including Medvedchuk.

Challenging the decision a day after the ruling, Zelensky said Ukraine would lose World Bank support, leaving a “big hole in the budget.”

The same day, the European Union reiterated its claim. In a statement, he said the court ruling called into question “a number of international commitments that Ukraine has made to its international partners, including the EU”.

Zelenski responded by presenting a bill to overturn the decision, dismiss judges from the Constitutional Court and appoint new ones. But this was rejected by his colleagues, including several members of his ruling Servant of the People party. Some accused him of seizing power.

Instead, another bill has been introduced that will restore the rules rejected by the court. It is yet to be discussed.

Zelensky was also criticized for the lack of progress with Russia, although he managed to conclude a deal to withdraw troops from key frontline areas in eastern Ukraine in October 2019 and he provided an exchange of prisoners in September and December 2019.

Welcoming this as a success, he told NBC News last month that some of his rivals said the withdrawal would encourage attacks by Russian-backed forces. “Instead, there is an ongoing ceasefire,” he said.

However, sporadic exchanges of fire continue along the 250-kilometer front line, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reports that there were almost 14,000 ceasefire violations between July and September 2020. Three civilians were killed.

For some, such as Dmitry Filimonenko, a 25-year-old information technology specialist in Kiev, Zelensky is progressing, albeit slowly.

“I voted for Zelensky because I expected rapid change,” he said. “He wants to do that. However, after a year, I realize that one person cannot change everything. “

But for the veterans, some of whom tried to physically prevent Ukrainian troops from leaving the front line, the withdrawal is seen as an act of capitulation.

Mikitenko gave up his life on the issue.

“He wanted to be heard,” said his daughter Julia.

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