The Final Showdown: Zelenskiy and Poroshenko Meet in Presidential Debate
19 April, 2019

There have been no public recordings of any meetings between the incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and comedian-turned-presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but two days before the decisive election the candidates finally meet.

Hromadske is following the debate that is set to start at 7 p.m. Kyiv time to bring you all the latest updates live.

The debate can be watched in Ukrainian (original) here. The unofficial stadium debate will be followed by a TV studio debate at 9 p.m. that only Poroshenko is expected to attend. In a case when only one presidential candidate turns up to the debate, the entire one-hour slot can be used by the candidate who arrived.

8:04 p.m. The entire stadium sings the national anthem. Poroshenko goes on to his own stage to speak to his supporters.

8:02 p.m. Poroshenko reminds of the Russian threat, suggests the debate to be finished with singing Ukraine's national anthem. He then proceeds to start singing the anthem, while Zelenskiy kisses his wife and smiles to his fans. 

8:01 p.m. In his closing remark, Zelenskiy reiterates his plans for first steps as president to remove parliamentary immunity, increase salaries for teachers.

7:54 p.m. Poroshenko also praises Zelenskiy for good acting and business skills, invites him to the official part of the debate at Ukraine's public broadcaster UA:PBC. Earlier, Zelenskiy said he won't be going to the official debate that was postponed by an hour to factor in the time for the candidates to get from the stadium to the studio.

7:50 p.m. In his final speech, Zelenskiy acknowledges Poroshenko's wins – such as attaining the EU visa-free regime for Ukraine and autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – but asks him why he only credits those victories to himself.

7:44 p.m. Zelenskiy reassures that his speech about kneeling down before [Russia President] Putin was taken out of context. And he's actually ready to stand on his knees in front of the mothers, wives and families of Ukrainian soldiers fighting in occupied Donbas. They both go down on their knees, albeit Poroshenko faces the soldiers who stand on the stage. 

7:42 p.m. Poroshenkos asks Zelenskiy how he's planning to "defend Ukraine" from Russian aggression, reminds Zelenskiy of the time he apologized before notorious Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

7:38 p.m. Poroshenko claims his TV channel 5 is independent and has been following "true journalistic standards since 2003."  He goes on to brand Zelenskiy a "wrapper" for those who fled Ukraine in 2014 and are waiting for their turn to come back to Ukraine for a "revanche."

7:36 p.m. Zelenskiy says an oligarch can't be a president, it has to be an ordinary person .

7:28 p.m. Incumbent Poroshenko says: "The biggest risk is incompetence. You said you came to learn. Would you let an inexperienced doctor or pilot work for you?"

7:23 p.m. Incumbent Poroshenko tells Zelenskiy: "You were hiding from the army. You insulted our Ukraine, you called it a 'prostitute'. You received money from Russia. But we Ukrainians created international solidarity and made way towards the European Union. We replaced Russian markets with Western ones."

7:20 p.m. For the first question for incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, Volodymyr Zelenskiy reads from a list of "questions the people of Ukraine sent him". Among them accusations of corruption, lack of reforms.

7:09 p.m. It's Poroshenko's time for a speech. The incumbent accuses the former comedian of hiding from the media and not being transparent. 


7:06 p.m. Zelenskiy goes on to describe how there are "two Poroshenkos."

"The first Poroshenko is a wonderful orator and economist on camera. He opens schools. The second Poroshenko opens confectionery shops. That's why I'm here. I'm not a politician - I'm a simple human who came to break this system. I am the results of your mistakes and promises," Zelenskiy says.

7:04 p.m. Zelenskiy starts his five-minute speech, thanks his supporters, asks crowds to keep the noise level down. Zelenskiy goes on to criticize Poroshenko for not following through his promises. Zelenskiy goes on to criticize Poroshenko for not following through with his promises, for getting richer and closing important criminal cases.


7:03 p.m. Poroshenko walks over to "Zelenskiy's stage" scraping the original plans of two stages.

6:58 p.m. A coin was flipped to establish who will be the first to speak. Zelenskiy wins.

6:19 p.m. Details finally emerge about the structure of the debate. According to the information received by Hromadske, each candidate will receive five-minute slots for individual speeches. Further 36 minutes will be dedicated to a discussion, followed by five minutes each to end. Each of the two stages will have a different moderator: Kulykov for Poroshenko, Frolyak for Zelenskiy.

6:01 p.m. Some 50,000 people are expected to visit tonight's debate, says the stadium's press secretary Tetiana Horobchenko.

5:40 p.m. Each candidate has their own stage set up. This photo shows Poroshenko's stage on the left and Zelenskiy's on the right.

Photo credit: Volodymyr Hontar / UNIAN

5:08 p.m. A big line of journalists has formed waiting to be let inside the Olimpiyskiy Stadium. Many of them hail from outside of Ukraine, countries including the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

4:59 p.m. Hromadske finds among the debate visitors Ihor Kozlovsky, a prominent Ukrainian academic who back in 2016 was detained by Russia-backed separatists in the occupied Donbas where he was held in prison for nearly two years. Kozlovsky says he supports the incumbent but will respect "the choice of the nation" whatever it turns out to be. "Zelenskiy might be a good person but a good person does not necessarily need to become a president," he adds. 

4:45 p.m. Law enforcers let people inside the stadium where two stages are set up – one reportedly for Zelenskiy, the other for Poroshenko. How exactly the debate will be conducted is still unknown. Hromadske Radio journalist Andriy Kulykov and ICTV channel journalist Olena Frolyak will moderate the debate. 

4:00 p.m. Doors were previously announced to officially open at 4 p.m. but the police say they're not ready to let people in yet, as metal detectors aren't set up yet.

3:51 p.m. In and around the stadium, numerous law enforcement officers – including the police, the National Guard, the dialogue police – protect the area and the visitors.

3:44 p.m. People start turning up to the Olimpiyskiy football stadium where the debate will be held.