By Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth
KYIV – A slew of senior officials were dismissed on Tuesday in Ukraine’s biggest political shake-up of the war so far that Kyiv said showed President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was in tune with his public following corruption allegations.
A long-running battle against corruption in Ukraine has taken on vital significance as Russia’s invasion has made Kyiv heavily reliant on Western support and it pursues a bid to join the European Union.
The clear-out of over a dozen officials as Russia’s invasion enters its 12th month came days after the arrest of a deputy minister suspected of graft and allegations that were denied by the Defence Ministry and sparked an outcry.
“The president sees and hears society. And he directly responds to a key public demand – justice for all,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior Zelenskiy adviser, wrote on Twitter.
The outgoing officials include five regional governors, four deputy ministers and a senior presidential office official seen as close to Zelenskiy, who had announced on Monday there would be “personnel decisions – some today, some tomorrow”.
Some of the changes had been planned for a while, but were precipitated by a sudden spate of negative headlines, Kyiv-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.
“This is simultaneously an intensification of the fight against corruption, and a reaction from the president … to critical articles in the media,” Fesenko told Reuters.
Some of the announcements appeared linked to corruption accusations while others were entirely unrelated.
The shake-up was made all the more striking coming amid a deep freeze in domestic politics that has held throughout the war as political rivalries were largely set aside to focus on the fight for national survival.
Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov tendered his resignation after a local media report over the weekend accused the defence ministry of paying inflated prices for supplies of food, an old trick used by corrupt officials to skim off money.
The ministry said the allegations were groundless but that the resignation of Shapovalov, who was in charge of army supplies, was a “worthy deed” that would help retain trust in the ministry.
As the shake-up unfolded in a series of announcements, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a cabinet meeting that Ukraine was making progress in its anti-corruption campaign. “It is systemic, consecutive work which is very needed for Ukraine and is an integral part of integration with the EU,” he said.
The governors of the regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Sumy and Kherson were among those on their way out. Technically, Zelenskiy still needs to publish a decree finalising their sacking.
The president’s office said it had accepted the resignation of Kyrylo Tymoshenko as its deputy head. He gave no reason for his exit.
The 33-year-old worked on Zelenskiy’s election campaign and had been in his post since 2019, overseeing the regions and regional policies. He had been criticised by local media for driving flashy cars during the invasion, though he denied wrongdoing and said the vehicles had been rented.
Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko, who had come under fire in local media for holidaying with his family in Marbella in Spain during the war, was removed from his post. Symonenko has not commented publicly on those allegations.
Zelenskiy said in his nightly speech on Monday that officials would no longer to be able to travel abroad for purposes unrelated to government work.