SUNDAY TIMES WEB DESK:President Petro Poroshenko has been fighting for his political survival against Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no prior political experience, who has a commanding poll lead as the two go into a run-off on April 21.

Vowing to take Ukraine into the European Union if he wins, Poroshenko has sought to paint Zelenskiy as a buffoonish lightweight whose victory would push Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.

Poroshenko and Zelenskiy are due to hold a policy debate next Friday, where Poroshenko believes he can expose his opponent’s campaign as an “empty package”.

“There is a rising demand for my opponent just (to) put (his) card(s) on the table,” he told media in an interview on board his plane between whistle-stop visits to meet leaders in Berlin and Paris. “I’m absolutely confident that my program is better, my support is strong.”

A 53-year-old confectionary magnate, Poroshenko took office in 2014 after the Maidan street protests forced his Kremlin-backed predecessor to flee into exile and after Russia annexed Crimea.