Profile: Petro Poroshenko

Ukraine’s incumbent president who came to power on a pro-West protest wave struggles to secure support for re-election.

Merkel Meets With Ukrainian President Poroshenko In Berlin
Polls suggest Poroshenko will lose Sunday's runoff vote by a significant margin [Adam Berry/Getty Images]

President Petro Poroshenko, a 53-year-old billionaire with a chocolate empire, came to power in 2014 after a pro-Western uprising overthrew Ukraine’s Russia-backed leader Viktor Yanukovich.

Over the last five years, his popularity dropped despite his efforts to be seen as a passionate fighter for Ukraine’s territorial unity, as well as the champion of the country’s dream of integration with the European Union and NATO.

Poroshenko has positioned himself as the only politician able to take on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who led the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The incumbent has reinforced the Ukrainian army that is battling Moscow-backed rebels in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.

Poroshenko also ratified the Association Agreement with the EU, the document that enabled Ukrainians to trade with and travel to Europe without restrictions.

The president also secured the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church from its Russian counterpart.

Poroshenko claims he is the only candidate capable of standing up to Putin [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]
Poroshenko claims he is the only candidate capable of standing up to Putin [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

But Poroshenko failed to rid the country of corruption or recover the money stolen from Ukraine’s coffers during Yanukovich’s rule.

Ukrainians blame Poroshenko for the lack of reforms and the deterioration of living standards since 2014.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Tetiana Sokolova, a 60-year-old pensioner, acknowledged the war made it difficult for Poroshenko to fulfil his promises, but still blamed him for deteriorating living standards.

“Under Poroshenko, our standard of living lowered even more. I became a pensioner under his administration. I have 30-year work experience as a kindergarten teacher and I receive 1,600 hryvnias [$58], they recently raised it by 100 hryvnias [$3.6],” she said, tearing up.

“I am very unsatisfied with the current government. They are all thieves in law.”

Struggle for re-election

Poroshenko came second in the first round of presidential elections on March 31, securing less than 16 percent of ballots – half of the frontrunner, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

He sought to recover the lost ground by launching a special court to try corruption cases and linking his rival to “Kremlin agents“.

Poroshenko also ordered the dismissal of the Odessa governor and fired the deputy head of foreign intelligence who reportedly has vast real estate holdings in Russia.

He is expected to lose Sunday’s runoff vote by a bigger margin.

The father of four was born in Ukraine’s southwestern town of Bolgrad. Poroshenko studied economics and entered politics in 1998 when he became a legislator. 

He was one of the founders of Yanukovich’s Regions Party in 2000, but changed sides after the 2004 election widely seen as rigged by Yanukovich.

Source: Al Jazeera