Poroshenko Zelensky
Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Voting appears to be proceeding smoothly in Ukraine's presidential runoff, in which incumbent President Petro Poroshenko is facing a strong challenge from political outsider Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Central Election Commission reported that turnout by midafternoon on April 21 was just over 45 percent in the second-round election.

No serious violations or incidents had been reported, and commission Deputy Chairman Oleh Konopolskiy told journalists that voting was "going normally."

A 41-year-old comic who shot to fame playing an accidental president in a TV sitcom, Zelenskiy joked with reporters as he voted in Kyiv early on April 21 that his wife had put him in a good mood ahead of time by playing him a song by American rapper Eminem.

"Today will be a victory for Ukrainians, a victory for Ukraine," he said, adding that he would hold a press conference in Kyiv at 8 p.m., immediately after polls closed. "We have united Ukraine."

Polls in the run-up to the second round showed Zelenskiy with a mounting lead. A survey released on April 18 by the Rating research group found that 57.9 percent of those definitely planning to vote said they would support Zelenskiy, with 21.7 percent backing Poroshenko.

Comment: 57.0 percent is a conservative estimate. Other polls show Zelensky polling at 72 percent.

'I'm not your opponent, I'm your sentence!' Ukraine presidential hopefuls trade jabs in final debate

Asked by RFE/RL what would be his first order of business if elected, Zelenskiy answered, "War and corruption."

Poroshenko, a 53-year-old chocolate mogul, also cast his ballot in Kyiv early in the day, urging voters to take their decision seriously and praising the conduct of the election.

"I am proud of the way the elections have been organized this year," Poroshenko told journalists. "Our citizens can freely express their will. Our democratic tradition is protected. This is what characterizes Ukraine as a European state."

"It's important to be guided by reason, not laughs," the president added, saying "it might be funny at first, but pain may come later."

Zelenskiy won the first round of voting on March 31 with 30 percent of the vote in a field of 39 candidates. Poroshenko took second with 16 percent.

Pollsters said in the months leading up to the voting that a majority of voters were hoping for dramatic changes after the election.

Outside the Maritime Academy where Zelenskiy voted, Kateryna Chala, the founder of an IT company, told RFE/RL that she had voted for Poroshenko.

Chala said Poroshenko has made mistakes since coming to power following pro-EU unrest and a Russian invasion in 2014 but has put Ukraine on a path toward the West she hopes will eventually lead to membership in the European Union and NATO.

"We have a lot of problems...like high gas prices, [high] prices in the shops..." she said. "I understand it's not possible to create a miracle and fix everything in just one day."

The mood was subdued at Poroshenko's election headquarters at the Mystetskiy Arsenal in the late afternoon on election day. A few campaign officials told journalists in the sparsely occupied press center that they hoped voters would make "the right choice."

In contrast, wine and champagne were being served at Zelenskiy's headquarters in a conference center just down the road, as about 300 people chatted. Zelenskiy campaign adviser Svyatoslav Yurash told RFE/RL that the campaign was "ready for victory," adding that he thought Zelenskiy could win "80 percent" of the vote.

Zelenskiy has run his campaign mostly on social media and has largely avoided substantial policy discussions. He has benefited from Ukraine's slumping economy, endemic corruption, and fatigue over Kyiv's ongoing five-year war against Russia-backed separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine.

He says he supports Ukraine's eventual membership in NATO but only if it is approved in a referendum. He has insisted that Russia must return the Black Sea region of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and pay reparations.

Zelenskiy has called for direct talks with Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives. In the past, Moscow has rejected such proposals, claiming the conflict was an internal matter for Ukraine and urging Kyiv to negotiate with representatives of the Moscow-back separatist formations.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled in November 2016 that the war in eastern Ukraine was "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation."