The dismissals and resignations — notably of Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, Kyrylo Tymoshenko; Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov; and Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko — represent the biggest shake-up in the country’s leadership since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last February.
Other officials were removed outright from their positions, including several regional governors.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top Zelensky adviser, tweeted that the president’s “personnel decisions testify to the key priorities of the state … no blind eyes” — adding that Zelensky “sees and hears society,” and is responding to the public’s insistence on “justice for all.”
Another Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly, said that some in the government had for many months complained about what they saw as a pattern of corruption and predicted Tuesday that Zelensky’s moves marked “just the beginning.”
Congressional Republicans, particularly in the House where they now hold a narrow majority, have raised concerns about accounting for the billions in aid being sent by the Biden administration to Kyiv. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), prodded by his right flank, has said there should be no “blank checks” for Ukraine, and he has pledged greater oversight.
One senior U.S. official said Tuesday there are no concerns “at this point” that the news could poison the U.S. relationship with Ukraine.
But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, indicated there were concerns about how the corruption allegations might echo in Washington and beyond. “There is a 100 percent chance that those who are already prone to repeating Kremlin talking points via social media, and willing prime time talk show hosts, will use this to fuel their isolationist ideologies,” the official said.
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The removal of Shapovalov was directly connected to reports in the Ukrainian media that Defense Ministry officials bought food for the military at prices triple those found in local stores.
The ministry has denied allegations of wrongdoing but welcomed Shapovalov’s resignation as a confidence-building measure.
In its official Telegram channel, the Defense Ministry said Shapovalov “asked to be removed in order not to create threats to the stable support of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” because of “accusations related to the procurement of food services.”
However, the ministry also said the accusations were “unfounded and baseless” and called Shapovalov’s resignation “a worthy act in the traditions of European and democratic politics.”
Other officials did not immediately give reasons for their resignations.
Tymoshenko, who was a key domestic adviser to Zelensky, thanked a list of government agencies and officials, including Zelensky, for “the trust and the opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute,” but he did not explain his departure.
Local media, however, reported that his resignation was at least partly the result of an investigation by Bihus.info, a local media outlet, which said that Tymoshenko had commandeered for his personal use a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV that had been donated to the Ukrainian government for humanitarian aid operations.
It was one of 50 Tahoe vehicles that General Motors sent to Ukraine earlier in the year to help distribute aid and to evacuate civilians from the war zone. Tymoshenko confirmed that he drove the car but said it was for official use.
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Over the weekend, a deputy infrastructure minister, Vasyl Lozynsky, was dismissed in connection with a bribery case brought by Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency.
Ukraine, under pressure from the United States and especially the European Union, has worked aggressively in recent years to root out corruption, which had long been pervasive across the government. The new allegations are particularly sensitive and troubling because the country, in wartime, has been totally reliant on donations from foreign countries — in weapons to fight the Russian invasion, as well as money to keep the economy afloat.
Oleksandr Novikov, the head of Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention, said the swift measures were necessary as Ukrainians expect their leaders to be taking part in the shared national sacrifice the war has demanded of them.
“Despite the war, Ukrainians became more intolerant of corrupt practices and more inclined to behavior of integrity,” Novikov wrote in reply to questions sent by text message. “Before the war, only 40 percent of Ukrainians believed that corruption cannot be justified under any circumstances, now — 64 percent.”
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Some anti-corruption advocates in the country also hailed the firings as a necessary step that would send an important message to others in government. “It is an overall healthy sign,” said Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a Kyiv-based organization financed by the U.S., and E.U. as well as private donations.
In his regular evening address on Monday, Zelensky said he had made “personnel decisions” in the country’s “ministries, central government bodies, regions and law enforcement system.”
He also said that Ukrainian officials would be barred from traveling abroad for vacations during wartime.
“If they want to rest now, they will rest outside the civil service,” Zelensky said.
Shane Harris, John Hudson and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.
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