Kyiv on Tuesday announced the sacking of a dozen top officials in its biggest political shake-up following the country’s first major corruption scandal linked to the Russian invasion.
Ukraine has long suffered from rampant corruption, but Moscow’s full-scale war that has lasted nearly a year has overshadowed the government’s efforts to root out corruption.
Western allies have allocated billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Kyiv to counter Russian troops, often conditioning support for anti-corruption reforms.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening speech on Tuesday that the cleanup was necessary and that further steps would be taken.
“It’s right, it’s necessary for our defence, and it helps our rapprochement with European institutions,” he said. “We need a strong state, and Ukraine will be just that.”
Presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said Zelensky had focused on “key state priorities” by sacking officials, who include governors of regions that have seen heavy fighting and deputy ministers.
“During war, everyone must understand their responsibility,” Podolyak tweeted.
The reshuffle came after a Ukrainian deputy minister for community and territorial development, Vasyl Lozynskiy, was sacked the weekend after his arrest on suspicion of embezzlement.
Photographs released by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau showed stashes of cash seized from Lozynskiy’s office.
The 36-year-old was accused of taking a $400,000 bribe to ‘facilitate’ the purchase of generators at inflated prices as Ukraine grapples with power shortages electricity following the Russian strikes on its energy network.
On Tuesday, key presidential aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who has worked with Zelensky since his 2019 election, announced his resignation.
The 33-year-old posted a photo of himself holding a handwritten letter of resignation, thanking the president for “the opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute.”
Tymoshenko has been embroiled in several scandals, including over the alleged personal use last October of an SUV donated to Ukraine for humanitarian purposes.
He was replaced by Oleksii Kuleba, the former head of the Kyiv region’s military administration.
Oleg Nemchinov, a senior government official, also announced the departure of five regional governors and four deputy ministers.
They include the heads of the central Dnipropetrovsk region, the northeastern region of Sumy, the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, as well as the region surrounding the capital Kyiv.
Nemchinov also announced the dismissal of two deputy ministers of community and territorial development and a deputy minister of social policy.
The Defense Ministry separately announced the resignation of Deputy Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who worked to provide logistical support to the army.
It came after the ministry was accused of signing food contracts at prices two to three times higher than current staple food prices.
Holidays in Spain
The ministry insisted the charges were “unsubstantiated and groundless”, but said Shapovalov’s departure would “maintain the trust of society and international partners”.
Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko also resigned after media reports he had been on vacation in Spain, apparently using a car owned by a Ukrainian company.
The United States welcomed the layoffs and said none of the billions of US war aid dollars were known to have been involved.
“The people of Ukraine have been very clear about their desire for good governance and transparency,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Although he is vocal on the fight against corruption, Zelensky himself has been involved in corruption scandals in the past.
In 2021, the so-called Pandora Papers obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said Zelensky used a network of offshore companies to buy three high-end properties in London.
His office said at the time that Zelensky, who is a former actor and comedian, set up the offshore companies to protect himself against the “aggressive actions” of the “corrupt” regime of former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122nd out of 180 in its corruption ranking for 2021.