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"Are you politically active?" Zelensky undergoes a blood test in Kiev ahead of his debate with Poroshenko. Photo: AFP/Getty

Ukraine appears to be 3 days away from electing a man best known for playing a president on TV as its actual president.

Why it matters: One recent poll shows Volodymyr Zelensky leading incumbent President Petro Poroshenko by a whopping 47 points ahead of Sunday's runoff. It's all the more remarkable because Zelensky has hardly campaigned and has few clear policy positions.

  • Poroshenko's unpopularity is tied to his failure to tackle corruption. The president has suggested the inexperienced Zelensky would be a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.
  • What to watch: Zelensky is slated to debate Poroshenko on Friday in front of a crowd of up to 60,000 at Ukraine's national stadium.

Claire Kaiser, an expert on Eastern Europe at McLarty Associates, says that if Zelensky wins, he'll have to build a strong national security team and send an early signal he has a handle on foreign policy.

  • "Anyone running the show in Ukraine has the dual challenge of managing the economy and finding some sort of solution to the war in the East," she says.
  • Kaiser says Zelensky hasn't sent any signals that he plans to shift Ukraine's orientation away from Europe and the U.S., so while "there will definitely be a getting to know you phase," U.S. policy toward Ukraine is unlikely to change significantly.

Go deeper

Biden says $1,400 stimulus payments can start going out this month

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Biden said Saturday that the Senate passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package means the $1,400 direct payments for most Americans can begin going out later this month.

Driving the news: The Senate voted 50-49 Saturday to approve the sweeping legislation. The House is expected to pass the Senate's version of the bill next week before it heads to Biden's desk for his signature.

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COVID-19 drives smell loss awareness, research

A health worker carries out an olfactory test outside Buenos Aires. Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has thrust a relatively unknown ailment, anosmia — or smell loss — into the international spotlight.

Why it matters: Researchers hope smell testing becomes as standard as the annual flu shot, helping to detect early signs of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
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Why we need to know COVID's origins

The WHO's headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Geopolitical tensions are foiling efforts to get to the bottom of how COVID-19 originated.

Why it matters: Insights into how COVID-19 began can help us prevent future pandemics — especially if it involved any kind of leak or accident at a virology lab.

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