A number of Ukrainian officials have been fired or resigned in the past four days over corruption allegations as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tries to take a zero-tolerance approach to the issue.
Fifteen senior officials have left their posts since Saturday, six of whom have been the subject of corruption allegations brought against them by journalists and Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities.
The wave of change began on Saturday when Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Vasyl Lozinskyi was arrested by anti-corruption investigators and removed from his post. He was accused by prosecutors of inflating the price of winter equipment, including generators, and siphoning off $400,000. Investigators also found $38,000 in cash in his office.
After Lozinskyi was detained, Zelenskiy pledged in his late night speech to take a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, a problem that has plagued Ukraine since independence.
“I want it to be clear: there will be no return as before,” the president said.
Zelenskiy also said on Sunday that there would be “decisions” made on the corruption issue this week, without specifying what they would be. The European Union has said Ukraine must meet anti-corruption standards before it can join.
Since Zelenskiy’s speech, four other senior officials implicated in separate corruption scandals have been removed from their posts or resigned.
Among them, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, the deputy defense minister, under whose leadership allegedly inflated food contracts were signed. He admitted no wrongdoing. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, who was filmed by journalists driving a car owned by prominent Ukrainian businessmen, also denied any wrongdoing. Pavlo Halimon, the deputy leader of Zelenskiy’s political party, did not comment on recent evidence presented by reporters that he bought a house in Kyiv beyond his means.
Oleksiy Symonenko, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, was also removed from his post, having left for vacation in Spain at the end of December in a Mercedes belonging to a prominent Ukrainian businessman. In response to the scandal, Ukraine’s National Security Council on Monday banned officials from traveling abroad until the end of the war, except for those on official business. Until Monday’s rulings, the male officials were seen as an exception to the ban on Ukrainian men of military age leaving the country.
The upheaval continued on Tuesday afternoon with Ukraine’s cabinet of ministers announcing that five regional heads had been removed from their posts, only one of whom is under investigation for corruption, along with three other deputy ministers and two heads of state agencies – neither of whom stands tall. accused of corruption.
Leading anti-corruption campaigner Vitaliy Shabunin said the dismissal of those accused of corruption is proof that Ukraine’s newly formed anti-corruption system is working.
“Not only is the anti-corruption system working, but politicians are learning to work in a new way,” Shabunin said. Shabunin gave the example of Lozinskyi, whose boss, Oleksiy Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister, asked the Cabinet of Ministers to fire him an hour after his arrest and search of his office.
Shabunin, however, criticized Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov for defending and not firing Shapovalov, his deputy logistics minister, when Ukrainian publication ZN.UA published contracts on Saturday showing that the price of certain commodities food for soldiers was several times higher than in a supermarket.
Shapovalov resigned on Tuesday in order, in his own words, not to destabilize the Ukrainian military amid accusations against the ministry.
Reznikov said the allegations were part of an information attack on the ministry and ordered Ukraine’s security services to investigate who leaked the contracts.
Shabunin said the bribery scheme was “too primitive” for the public not to understand. According to contracts obtained by journalists, a single egg costs 17 Ukrainian hryvnia (37p). The price of eggs, potatoes and cabbage is well known in Ukraine, said Shabounine, who noted that wholesale prices should be lower than supermarket prices.
The Ministry of Defense did not deny the authenticity of the contract but insists that the price quoted was a technical error.
“The public has lost faith in Reznikov,” Shabunin said. “All (military) contracts are non-public because of the war and that’s normal… but why should I now believe that all the prices of the other contracts are OK? It’s all about trust. »
In a lengthy response on his English and Ukrainian Facebook page, Reznikov did not deny the authenticity of the contracts. However, he said the egg price was a technical error discovered in December and the responsible person at the ministry was suspended when it was discovered. He also said he was willing to set up a parliamentary inquiry because he was “confident that (the ministry) had got it right”.
Corruption has been a thorny issue for Ukrainian journalists and activists since the start of the war. They fear that collecting evidence of corruption will harm international support for their country’s war effort.
Shabunin said that since the war a silent contract has developed between activists and journalists and the authorities. “We will not criticize the authorities as we did before the war, but the authorities should in exchange react very firmly and quickly to any corruption, even on a small scale – as they did in the case of [Lozinskyi]. There they fulfilled the social contract. But the Ministry of Defense did not.
Shabunin added that sacking Reznikov was the only way to restore confidence in Ukraine’s western partners.
The United States is by far Ukraine’s biggest financial backer. Its ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, told a conference in Kyiv on Monday: “There can be no place in the future Ukraine for those who use state resources for their own enrichment. State resources must serve the people.