Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday launched an uphill battle for re-election, five years on from a bloody uprising that brought him to power on a promise to tackle corruption.
“This feeling of deep responsibility towards my country… prompted me to decide to run again for the office of President of Ukraine,” he told a forum in Kiev ahead of March 31 polls.
Poroshenko asked voters for a mandate to “guarantee the process of European and Atlantic integration, to guarantee our independence, to renew the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Addressing roughly 1,000 people at a meeting where he was expected to announce his candidacy, Poroshenko stressed the need for peace with Russia.
Poroshenko was elected to the presidency in 2014 after his pro-Russian predecessor Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following a wave of popular protests.
The 53-year-old chocolate tycoon promised to pivot the ex-Soviet country of nearly 45 million people towards the West and has sought to push through ambitious reforms.
But critics say corruption is still rampant and Poroshenko has done little to rein in fellow oligarchs, although the economy is showing signs of recovery after a recession.
Polls put him behind former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who rose to international prominence in 2004 during the anti-corruption Orange Revolution demonstrations and announced she is running last week.
In third place is Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who once played the role of president in a Ukrainian TV series but has no political experience.
No candidate has an unassailable lead, with Tymoshenko, Poroshenko and Zelensky polling on roughly 16, 14 and 9 percent respectively.
Kiev’s relationship with Moscow remains in dire straits.
After the 2014 uprising, Moscow annexed Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine’s east, in a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.