A comedian leading Ukraine’s presidential race says the country needs to negotiate with Russia to put an end to fighting in the east.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays the nation’s president in a popular TV series, has surged ahead of incumbent Petro Poroshenko and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, according to opinion polls ahead of the March 31 election.

Zelenskiy said late Thursday that if he wins his top priority would be saving lives, adding that talks are the only way to end the separatist conflict in the country’s east that erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

He said he would encourage the United States and Britain to join peace talks that have been brokered by France and Germany. But he stressed, “there will be no compromises on Ukraine’s sovereignty” and “no trading in territories.”

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