May 23, 2019 / 3:45 PM / 4 months ago

Jokes, a robot dog and salty language at new Ukraine leader's tech event

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, peppered his speech with jokes, swipes at lawmakers and salty language on Thursday while addressing a technology forum in one of his first public appearances since his inauguration.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during an IT conference in Kiev, Ukraine May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

A 41-year-old comedian and actor who had no prior political experience, Zelenskiy won last month’s presidential race by a landslide promising to fight corruption and an end to politics as usual.

Thursday’s appearance suggests he will maintain some of the informal style that he used during his unorthodox campaign, which relied on comedy gigs and social media videos while eschewing traditional rallies.

Tie-less and with his sleeves rolled up, Zelenskiy gave a speech on innovation while dozens of people among the crowd of IT workers filmed him on their smartphones.

“Honestly, it’s much nicer here than at Bankova,” he said, referring to the presidential administration building. “I have been there for three days, and here there are real, living people.”

He showed the crowd a video of a robotic dog running on a treadmill, to highlight the power of technological progress.

To cheers and laughter, he then showed a picture of a group of Ukrainian politicians as the people holding the country back. The next picture was of the Russian parliament.

“It seems that we live on different planets - people with innovations and politicians,” Zelenskiy said.

“I am convinced that every day you are creating great things, and therefore... you create these things, but our bureaucrats and politicians absolutely do not make use of this,” he said, denigrating the political system with an expletive.

Before becoming president, Zelenskiy starred in a TV comedy series as a history teacher who accidentally becomes president after a swear word-laden video of him ranting about corruption goes viral.

His campaign traded on his image of the humble everyman taking on Ukraine’s corrupt elite.

On Wednesday, he clashed with parliament after lawmakers rejected his proposed reforms to Ukraine’s voting system and also criticised his decision to dissolve parliament and hold a snap election in July.

“We are not talking about politics now,” Zelenskiy told journalists after they tried to ask him questions at the forum.

“I beg you. Not about politics please. Not about politics. I am sorry. Innovations, youth – it is cool – the modern world. What politics? Give me a break from politics.”

Editing by Matthias Williams and Alison Williams

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