KYIV, April 5 - Ukraine's two remaining presidential candidates took highly public alcohol and drug tests on Friday, as part of an escalating series of challenges delivered on social media, NPR reported.
The runoff election on April 21 pits incumbent President Petro Poroshenko against Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays a president on TV. Zelenskiy came out of the first round of election with 30 percent of the vote – nearly double the number of votes cast for Poroshenko.
"I took a blood test. They pumped all sorts of blood out of me. But thank God, I have enough of it. Young blood," Zelenskiy told reporters, as Reuters reported.
The incumbent leader has been pushing his rival, who has no political experience, to participate in a public debate. Zelenskiy had the issued the drug test demand to Poroshenko after he accepted Poroshenko's challenge to debate, as Reuters reported.
And he further upped the stakes – in a slickly produced video, the comedian strode in slow motion onto the field of Ukraine's largest sports arena, Kyiv Olimpiyskiy Stadium.
"The debate will take place before the Ukrainian people," he said, challenging the leader to take him on at the stadium, not a TV studio. "I give you 24 hours. Think," the comedian added, according to a BBC translation.
It's a challenge that Poroshenko accepted in his own video, though he criticized the "uncertainty" involved.
"This is no joke. Being president and commander-in-chief is not a game," he said.
On Friday, Poroshenko took his drug test at the stadium. "Poroshenko challenged Zelenskiy to take the test at the sports arena along with him, but Zelenskiy said he doesn't trust that lab and took his test at another one," The Associated Press reported.
In a tweet after he had blood drawn, Poroshenko said he thinks these tests should be required, "because the question of absence of addictions to alcohol and drugs in a candidate for President – is a question of national security."
According to the Interfax Ukraine news agency, narcotics were not found in either candidate's blood.
A major issue in this electoral race is the country's relationship with Russia, which annexed the area of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Poroshenko's campaign is pushing the idea that "he is the only candidate who can stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin."
And, he's hoping to have multiple debates to make his case. As Interfax Ukraine reports, Poroshenko's campaign is arguing that there should be two rounds of debates – one in a stadium, and one in a TV studio. (nrp/ez)