Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds his ballot at a polling station during a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds his ballot at a polling station during a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS

Comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky was the top vote getter, ahead of incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, in Ukraine's first round of presidential elections, according to exit polls Sunday, leading the two candidates into a run-off election.

Zelensky, a comedian who plays the role of the president in a television comedy series, was projected to win 30.4 percent of the vote, easily beating Poroshenko, in power since 2014, who earned 17.8 percent, according to the Central Election Commission's report as of 6pm.

Ukraine's President and presidential candidate Pet
Ukraine's President and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko and his family members, wife Maryna, daughter Yevhenia and grandson Petro, cast ballots at a polling station, March 31, 2019.

If no candidate wins more than half of the votes, the election will proceed to a run-off to be held on April 21.

"This is only the first step toward a great victory," Zelensky told reporters after the 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.

A local resident casts a vote into a mobile ballot box inside a house during a presidential election in the village of Zahiria in Lviv Region, Ukraine, March 31, 2019.
Ukrainians Vote in Presidential Election
The polls have opened and voters in Ukraine are casting their ballots Sunday in the first round of the country's presidential election. The top three of the 39 candidates are: a comedian who plays the role of the president in a television comedy series, the incumbent president, and a former prime minister, who is running for president for the third time. Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seeking to prove life can indeed imitate art.

President Petro Poroshenko had the support of just 13.7 percent of the voters, according to a pre-election poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

The 53-year-old billionaire dubbed the chocolate king because of his confectionery business has been accused by opponents of running schemes to buy votes, especially in small towns where the pull of political paternalism is strong.