After a leading contender dropped out of Ukraine’s presidential race Saturday, the hopes of many Ukrainians and their Western supporters are now on a man known as the Willy Wonka of Ukraine, the billionaire owner of a chocolate-candy company. Petro Olekseyevich Poroshenko, 48, was the highest-profile Ukrainian industrialist to support the protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych last month, and he has for several weeks led in polls for the May 25 presidential election. Known as a centrist who had previously worked for both pro-Western and pro-Russian governments, he became a strong advocate of integration with Europe after Russia banned imports of his chocolate. On Saturday, the candidate who had been running second in polls, the former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, withdrew from the race, throwing his support behind Poroshenko and solidifying his lead.
The shuffle leaves Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and prisoner under the ousted government, as the remaining credible competitor to Poroshenko. She had been in third place, according to a survey by four Ukrainian polling agencies last week.
The former pro-government party, whose association with Yanukovych makes it a longshot, nominated Mikhail Dobkin, an oligarch with close ties to the former president, on Saturday.
Poroshenko, also known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Roshen, the Ukrainian chocolate manufacturer, won notice during the anti-government protests last month for climbing onto a backhoe to prevent a demonstrator from driving it into police lines. Until then, the man with the beefy face and mop of salt and pepper hair was hardly known for drama