Kyiv announced on Tuesday the dismissal of dozens of senior officials in its biggest political shake-up after the country’s first major corruption scandal linked to the Russian invasion.
Ukraine has long suffered from endemic corruption, but Moscow’s nearly year-long all-out war has overshadowed the government’s efforts to root out corruption.
Western allies have poured billions of dollars in financial and military aid into Kyiv to counter Russian forces, often as a precondition to support for anti-corruption reforms.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address on Tuesday that the purge was necessary and that additional measures would be taken.
“It’s just, it’s essential to our defence, and it helps us draw closer to European institutions,” he said. “We need a strong country, and Ukraine will be like that.”
Aide to President Mykhailo Podolyak said Zelensky focused on “the main priorities of the state” in sacking officials, including governors of regions that witnessed heavy fighting and deputy government ministers.
“During a war, everyone should understand their responsibility,” Podolyak wrote in a tweet.
The changes came after Ukraine’s deputy minister for development of communities and territories, Vasyl Lozinsky, was sacked over the weekend after he was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement.
Pictures released by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau showed stashes of money seized in Lozinski’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 an electricity shortage following Russian strikes on its power grid.
On Tuesday, key presidential aide Kirillo 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 work every day, every minute.”
Tymoshenko has been embroiled in several scandals, including the alleged personal use last October of an SUV donated to Ukraine for humanitarian purposes.
He was replaced by Oleksiy Kuleba, the former head of the military department of the Kyiv region.
Oleg Nemchinov, a senior government official, also announced the departure of five regional governors and four deputy ministers.
Among them are the heads of the central Dnipropetrovsk region, the northeastern Sumy region, the southern regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson, as well as the region around the capital Kyiv.
Nemchinov also announced the dismissal of the deputy minister for development of communities and regions and the deputy minister for social policy.
The Ministry of Defense separately announced the resignation of Deputy Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who worked to provide logistical support to the army.
This came after accusing the ministry of signing food contracts at prices two to three times higher than the current prices of basic foodstuffs.
The ministry insisted the accusations were “baseless and unfounded” but said Shapovalov’s departure would “maintain the trust of the community and international partners”.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Oleksiy Simonenko also resigned, following media reports that he had holidayed in Spain, reportedly using a car owned by a Ukrainian company.
The United States welcomed the dismissal and said it was not known that he did not participate in any of the billions of dollars provided to help the war.
“The Ukrainian people have been very clear about their desire for good governance and transparency,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Despite his talk of fighting corruption, Zelensky himself has been embroiled in corruption scandals in the past.
In 2021, the Pandora Papers obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said Zelensky used a network of offshore companies to purchase three high-end properties in London.
His office said at the time that Zelensky, a former actor and comedian, had set up offshore companies to protect himself from the “aggressive actions” of the “corrupt” regime of former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122 out of 180 in its 2021 corruption ranking.