Wakeboarder, wrestler, dentist: novices of Ukraine's new ruling party take over parliament

KIEV (Reuters) - A wakeboarder, a wrestler and a dentist were among 254 lawmakers from President Volodymyr’s party who took up their seats as the new majority in the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday -- not one of whom has ever worked there before.

Dmytro Nalotov, newly elected lawmaker of the Servant of the People party, speaks with Reuters before his first parliament session in Kiev, Ukraine August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Zelenskiy, himself a former comedian, recruited fellow political novices to run as candidates for his Servant of the People party, which won an outright majority in the 450-seat parliament in July.

“It’s like standing in front of a ski slope, in front of something unknown,” said lawmaker Dmytro Nalotov, 34, who used to make his living in extreme sports as a wakeboarder, mountain biker and snowboard instructor.

“I am a new person in this field and I don’t know what I will face. According to rumors, there are many risky moments, so of course there are similarities.”

He won his parliamentary seat by beating a former mayor and a lawmaker by a huge margin in Poltava in central Ukraine.

“I want to end the era when lawmakers are celestial bodies, and begin the era when they are ordinary people, who live among ordinary people and do everything for ordinary people,” he said after the ceremonial first meeting of the new parliament.

Other new lawmakers include a dentist, a primary school teacher, a wedding photographer, several previously unemployed people, an interior designer, and a wrestler.

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Zelenskiy, who came to fame in a TV sitcom playing the part of a schoolteacher who becomes president, defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a landslide presidential election earlier this year.

He immediately called a parliamentary election to replace a chamber dominated by Poroshenko’s supporters. His new party’s outright majority makes Zelenskiy the first president in Ukraine’s 28-year independent history not to need a coalition to form a cabinet.

Expectations that Zelenskiy and his party can deliver change fast are running high.

In particular, many Ukrainians hope he can make real progress fighting corruption and bring peace to the east, where more than 13,000 people have already been killed in a five-year conflict with Russian-backed separatists.

“The extent of people’s trust is even a little scary because everyone expects quick, almost instant changes,” said Nalotov, while exercising in a sports park in Kiev.

“I don’t think everything will happen as fast as they want.”

According to an August survey, the number of Ukrainians who believe that the country’s current difficulties will be overcome in the next few years has risen to 48 percent from just 17 percent in 2016.

Analysts say a failure to deliver quick changes could hurt Zelenskiy’s rating and that of his party, but Nalotov says he is confident of a positive result even if it takes longer than people expect.

“As always and in any extreme sport you are approaching something which at first seems impossible, unrealistic, and very difficult,” he said.

“I think (in politics) it is very similar. We will look around, we all have good I think we will succeed.”

Editing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff