KYIV, April 9 – Thousands of billboards showing a face-off between President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will be distributed across the country before the April 21 runoff vote, officials said Tuesday.
Each billboard will carry a text, reading "April 21. A Crucial Choice,” without mentioning Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Ukrainian comedian whom Poroshenko is actually facing in the runoff.
More than 2,000 billboards were ordered and paid for by the Poroshenko campaign ahead of the runoff after Zelenskiy had surprised may by winning the first round of vote on March 31.
The Poroshenko campaign quickly rejected speculations the billboards were supposed to imply that Zelenskiy is an agent of Putin.
"Absolutely not. But we firmly believe that Putin is dreaming of a weak, unprepared president, which will allow the Kremlin to take Ukraine under control,” the campaign said.
The message conveyed by the ad is to remind the country that in the face of terrible external challenges, a “strong President and Supreme Commander” is needed, according to the campaign.
Russian media accused the Poroshenko campaign of “weaponizing” the image of the Russian president and also complained that it was illegal to use Putin’s image without his permission.
“Of course, no one asked Putin's permission, naturally,” the Poroshenko campaign responded. “Putin is an outlaw.”
“Another thing is surprising – the number of Ukrainian experts and politicians who spoke out in defense of Putin’s violated rights," the campaign said. "Among them, unfortunately, are representatives of candidate Zelenskiy.”
Anatoliy Hrytsenko, the leader of the Civil Position Party, criticized the Poroshenko campaign for using images aimed at splitting the country.
"This is dangerous for the country. The advertising and newspapers that are circulated by Poroshenko’s headquarters, are intentionally splitting the country into two," said Hrytsenko.
The sitting president must be the guarantor "of integrity and unity of Ukraine," Hrytsenko wrote on his Facebook account.
President Poroshenko had built his election campaign around matching up himself against the Russian president. He said the Russian leader was his main opponent at the election, and those who were against him therefore support Putin. (tl/ez)