FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor, is a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor, is a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

With half of the ballots counted Monday, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy and incumbent Petro Poroshenko were leading in Ukraine's presidential election.

The Central Election Commission said Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays the role of the president in a television comedy series, was in first place with 30 percent of the vote.

Poroshenko, who has been in power since 2014, was in second place with about 17 percent.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was in third place with 13 percent.

If the results hold and no candidate earns a majority, a runoff vote will be held on April 21 between the top two finishers.

"This is only the first step toward a great victory," Zelenskiy told reporters after initial results were released.

Zelenskiy is seeking to prove life can indeed imitate art. He in the protagonist of a long-running popular series called the "Servant of the People," in which he plays a teacher who unexpectedly finds himself president after a student posts on YouTube one of his rants denouncing the elite. 

Poroshenko has been accused by opponents of running schemes to buy votes, and saw his approval ratings fall as Ukraine experienced economic woes. His campaign included promises to take back control of Crimea after Russia annexed it in 2014.