Comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky has topped the first round of Ukraine's presidential election, exit polls showed, leading incumbent Petro Poroshenko into a run-off.

Mr Zelensky's political experience had been limited to playing the president in a TV show but his long-shot bid won over voters frustrated with endemic corruption and a stalling economy.

The entertainer was projected to garner 30.4% of the vote, handily beating Mr Poroshenko on 17.8%, according to combined figures from three pollsters released when voting stations closed.

Ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was herself a favourite to win when she launched her campaign at the start of the year, was knocked out with 14.2%, the figures showed.

If Mr Zelensky wins the second round next month, as opinion polls suggest, he will take the reins of one of the poorest countries in Europe - a nation of 45 million people fighting Russian-backed separatists in its east.

The 41-year-old has yet to spell out what he would do in power and one of his campaign slogans was: "No promises. No apologies".

Petro Poroshenko is seeking re-election



Despite concerns about his vague platform, supporters insist only a brand new face can clean up Ukraine's murky politics.

Some accuse Mr Zelensky of acting as a front for the interests of oligarch Igor Kolomoysky, who owns the channel that broadcasts the entertainer's shows, but he denies any political links.

Mr Zelensky has eschewed rallies and interviews in favour of playing gigs with his comedy troupe up to the final days of campaigning.

His political comedy "Servant of the People" returned for its third series this week.

Mr Poroshenko - a chocolate magnate who was one of the country's richest men when he took office - came to power in 2014 after a revolution forced his pro-Russian predecessor out of office.

The popular uprising was followed by Russia's annexation of Crimea and the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The 53-year-old leader said he would shut down the fighting, tackle graft and align the country with the West.

But five years on, the conflict has claimed some 13,000 lives and counting, while many feel Mr Poroshenko has failed to live up to the promise of the revolution.

Mr Tymoshenko, who rose to international prominence as a face of the 2004 Orange Revolution, was taking her third tilt at the presidency.

The campaign saw allegations of corruption and fraud from all sides.

A record 39 candidates were on the ballot paper - but none apart from the frontrunners reached double figures, according to the exit polls.

The interior ministry said an hour before the close of polls that it had received more than 1,700 reports of voter irregularities. 

Turnout by mid-afternoon was at 45%, up five percent on the same time during the previous presidential election, according to the central election commission.

If the results of the exit polls are confirmed, Mr Zelensky and Mr Poroshenko will face off for the presidency on 21 April.