A number of Ukrainian officials have been sacked or resigned over the past four days amid allegations of corruption, as Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, attempts a zero-tolerance approach to the issue.
Fifteen senior officials have left their posts since Saturday, six of them charged with corruption by journalists and Ukraine’s anti-corruption authorities.
The wave of changes began on Saturday when Vasyl Lozinsky, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, was detained and dismissed by anti-corruption investigators. Prosecutors accused him of inflating prices for winter equipment, including generators, and Allegedly netting $400,000. Investigators also found $38,000 in cash in his office.
After Lozinsky’s arrest, Zelensky vowed in his evening address 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 going back to the way things were,” the president said.
Also on Sunday, Zelensky said that “decisions” would be taken on the corruption issue this week, without specifying what they would be. The European Union has said that Ukraine must meet anti-corruption standards before becoming a member.
Since Zelensky’s speech, four other senior officials involved in separate corruption scandals have been fired or resigned.
Among them was Vyacheslav Shapovalov, the deputy defense minister, under whose supervision allegedly inflated food contracts were allegedly signed. He did not admit any wrongdoing. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, who was recorded by journalists driving a car belonging to prominent Ukrainian businessmen, denied any wrongdoing. Pavlo Halimon, deputy head of Zelensky’s political party, did not comment on recent evidence provided by journalists that he had bought a house in Kyiv beyond his means.
Also excluded is Oleksiy Simonenko, Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general, who went on holiday to Spain in late December in a Mercedes owned by a prominent Ukrainian businessman. In response to the scandal, Ukraine’s National Security Council on Monday banned officials from traveling abroad until the war is over, except for those on official missions. Until Monday’s decisions, male officials were considered an exception to the ban on Ukrainian men of military age leaving the country.
The overhaul continued on Tuesday afternoon, as Ukraine’s cabinet announced the sacking of five regional presidents, only one of whom is being investigated for corruption, along with three other deputy ministers and two heads of government agencies — none of whom ran. accused of corruption.
Prominent anti-corruption activist Vitaly Shabunin said the dismissal of those accused of corruption is proof of the success of Ukraine’s newly formed anti-corruption system.
“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 Lozinsky, whose boss, Oleksiy Kubrakov, the Minister of Infrastructure, asked the Cabinet to dismiss him an hour after he was arrested and his office searched.
Shabunin criticized Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov for defending and not firing Shapovalov, the deputy minister in charge of logistics, when Ukraine’s publication ZN.UA published contracts on Saturday showing the price of some food for soldiers was several times higher than in a supermarket.
Shapovalov resigned on Tuesday in order not to destabilize the Ukrainian army, as he put it, amid accusations against the ministry.
Reznikov said the allegations were part of a media attack on the ministry and ordered Ukraine’s security services to investigate who leaked the contracts.
Shabunin said the corruption scheme was “too primitive” for the public to understand. According to the contracts obtained by the journalists, one egg costs 17 Ukrainian hryvnia (37 pence). The prices of eggs, potatoes and cabbage are known in Ukraine, Shabunin said, noting that wholesale prices should be lower than in the supermarket.
The Ministry of Defense has not denied the validity of the contract but insists that the quoted price was a technical error.
“The audience has lost faith in Reznikov,” said Shabunin. “All (military) contracts are non-public because of the war and that’s normal… But why do I now think that all the prices quoted in other contracts are OK? It’s all about trust.”
In a lengthy response on his Facebook page in English and Ukrainian, Reznikov did not deny the validity of the contracts. However, he said the price of the eggs was a technical error that was discovered in December and the person in charge at the ministry was suspended when it was found. He also said he was willing to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry because he was “confident that (the ministry) is right.”
Corruption has been a thorny issue for Ukrainian journalists and activists since the war began. They worry that raising evidence of corruption could hurt international support for their country’s war effort.
Since the war, Shaponin said, a silent contract has developed between activists, journalists and the authorities. “We will not criticize the authorities as we did before the war, but in return the authorities must respond very firmly and swiftly to any corruption, even on a small scale – as they did in the case of [Lozinskyi]. There, the social contract was fulfilled. But the Ministry of Defense did not do that.
Shabunin added that expelling Reznikov was the only way to restore confidence in Ukraine’s Western partners.
The United States is by far Ukraine’s largest financial supporter. Its ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, said during a conference in Kyiv on Monday: “There is no place in the future Ukraine for those who use state resources for their own enrichment. State resources must serve the people.”