Russian TV on Wednesday aired a popular comedy series starring Ukraine’s actor-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky as new efforts were underway to de-escalate a conflict in east Ukraine.
The Russian premiere of Servant of the People, screened on the entertainment channel TNT and comes two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky met in Paris for their first face-to-face talks.
Zelensky, 41, is a former comedian and TV actor who shot to fame in ex-Soviet Ukraine after portraying a schoolteacher in Servant of the People who becomes president when his expletive-laden tirade goes viral.
In April, the celebrity secured a shock election win after capitalising on Ukrainians’ despair over mainstream politics, war with Kremlin-backed separatists, poverty and corruption.
He also named his party after the show.
The series premiered in Ukraine in 2015, becoming one of the most popular TV shows in the war-scarred country.
In the first of three episodes to be broadcast, the Russian channel TNT cut a joke about Putin from one of the scenes, an AFP journalist noted.
The joke centred on a pun which is a popular insult in Ukraine against the Russian leader.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday Putin was unlikely to watch the show.
“He does not have time,” he told reporters.
TNT – owned by Gazprom Media, the media arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom – said the TV series offered a satirical look at modern politics and ties between people and authorities in Ukraine.
In the show, Zelensky’s Russian-speaking character, President Vasyl Goloborodko, roots out corruption, takes on powerful oligarchs and lifts the country’s economy out of the doldrums.
In a statement released on the eve of the Russian premiere, the channel however said Servant of the People was a “utopia that had nothing to do with Zelensky’s Ukraine”.
According to Gazprom Media, 38.5 million Russians watch TNT every week.
The show has previously been available to Russians on a local video streaming service.