Kiev fires deputy ministers, prosecutors and front-line governors to save face amid the war-torn country’s biggest corruption scandal to date.
Ukraine has dismissed more than a dozen senior officials in one day over a corruption scandal in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government as the war in the country is about to reach its one-year mark.
Efforts to foil Kiev’s prolonged plague of corruption were among Zelenskyy’s election promises in 2019, but were overshadowed by Moscow’s war.
The layoffs that began on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday came as Ukraine’s Western allies shuffled to send battle tanks to the country to reinforce its defences against Russia.
In his daily evening address on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said the shakeup was necessary for Ukraine’s defence and that further measures would follow.
“Any internal problems that hinder the state are being cleaned up and will be cleaned up,” he said, adding: "We need a strong state, and Ukraine will be just that.”
Since the war began, Kiev has received billions in financial and military aid from its allies. But the country’s corruption scandals put that support at risk as donors demand transparency on where the war assistance is going.
The graft allegations could also slow Ukraine’s efforts to join the European Union and NATO.
The consequent layoffs, which thinned government ranks that had already taken a hit a week ago when Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky and other high-level ministry officials died in a helicopter crash, were welcomed by the US.
In a statement on Tuesday, the White House praised “the effective action of Ukraine’s anti-corruption institutions, civil society, and media, to ensure effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement and to hold those in positions of public trust to account”.
Ties to the war with Russia
The dismissals began after Vasyl Lozynskiy, the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Development, was removed from office over the weekend following his arrest with charges of embezzling budget funds.
Lozynskiy was detained after receiving a $400,000 bribe to “facilitate” the purchase of generators at inflated prices while Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy grid left the war–torn country with electricity shortages.
On Tuesday, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy Head of the Office of the President, announced his resignation without citing a reason as Zelenskyy pledged a crackdown on corruption.
Tymoshenko's involvement in several scandals, including his personal use of an SUV donated to Ukraine for humanitarian purposes, has been under investigation. In September, he was reportedly linked to the embezzlement of $7 million in humanitarian aid meant for Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia province.
Tymoshenko, who has denied the allegations, was replaced by the former head of Kiev region's military administration Oleksiy Kuleba.
Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko also turned in his resignation after reports of him having a vacation in Spain from December to January emerged in local media. He was accused of using a Mercedes car that belonged to a Ukrainian business that’s suspected of producing goods for the black market and tax evasion.
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s cabinet secretary Oleg Nemchinov also announced the dismissal of five regional governors of front-line provinces and four deputy ministers.
The governors were heads of the central Dnipropetrovsk region, the northeastern Sumy region, the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, and the region surrounding the capital Kiev.
Deputy Defence Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov also resigned after local media accused the ministry of signing food contracts for Ukraine's armed forces at prices two to three times higher than current rates for basic foodstuffs.
The ministry initially insisted the reports were "unfounded and baseless" and said it "purchases relevant products in accordance with the procedure established by law." By that account, Shapovalov's departure was meant to "preserve the trust of society and international partners."
On Wednesday, however, the defence ministry announced it was ready to "make procurement more transparent and budget funds more accessible to public control."
The head of Ukraine’s parliamentary anti-corruption committee, Anastasia Radina, said the ministry admitted "errors" related to food contracts and was "checking and examining prices to correct them."
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also announced the dismissal of Bodgan Khmelnytsky, an official in charge of acquiring military equipment and supplies, who had been suspended in December.
Separately, the General Prosecutor's Office dismissed the regional prosecutors of the southern regions of Poltava, central Kirovograd and northern Poltava, Sumy and Chernihiv regions.
Despite his public stance against corruption, Zelenskyy himself was involved in a number of controversies in the past.
In 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists put forward the Pandora Papers, saying Zelenskyy bought three upmarket properties in London through a network of offshore companies, which his office claimed were created to protect the president against the "aggressive actions" of the "corrupt" regime of pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych.