Several Ukrainian officials are fired as corruption scandal balloons
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ, MARIA VARENIKOVA and CASSANDRA VINOGRAD
Several top Ukrainian officials were fired Tuesday, including the governors of several Ukrainian regions, amid a ballooning corruption scandal. The move marked the biggest upheaval in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government since Russia’s invasion began 11 months ago.
Ukraine’s Cabinet ministry, which announced the firings on the Telegram social messaging app, provided no details about the reason, but it followed reports that Ukraine’s military had agreed to pay inflated prices for food meant for Ukrainian troops.
Earlier Tuesday, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said that Viacheslav Shapovalov, a deputy minister, had “asked to be fired” after the reports. The ministry said in a statement that relieving Shapovalov of his duties would “preserve the trust” of Ukrainians and the country’s international partners.
While there was no sign that the procurement scandal involved the misappropriation of Western military assistance, the dismissals appeared to reflect Zelenskyy’s goal of reassuring Ukraine’s allies — which are sending billions of dollars in military aid — that his government would show zero tolerance for graft as it prepares for a possible new offensive by Moscow.
In addition to the officials named Tuesday, Zelenskyy’s own deputy, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, tendered his resignation. Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the presidential office, was well known domestically and internationally, often tasked with providing updates on the war. But Ukrainian journalists had raised questions about his lavish lifestyle and use of government resources.
In particular, he had been criticized for zipping around in an expensive SUV that General Motors had donated for use in humanitarian missions.
Ukraine was struggling to get control over flourishing corruption long before the invasion. But for many Ukrainians the sense of common struggle and unity throughout the war makes the idea that top officials might be undermining the country’s collective effort for their own gain particularly galling, especially if the corruption involves the military.
Over the weekend, a Ukrainian newspaper reported that the Ministry of Defense had purchased food at inflated prices, including eggs at three times their cost. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov called the allegations “absolute nonsense” and the product of “distorted information.”
In its statement Tuesday, the ministry emphasized that the “voiced accusations are unfounded and baseless,” but called Shapovalov’s request for dismissal “a worthy act in the traditions of European and democratic politics, a demonstration that the interests of defense are higher than any cabinets or chairs.”
That it took three days for Shapovalov to step down raises serious questions about the Ministry of Defense’s commitment to rooting out corruption, said Vitaliy Shabunin, the director of operations for the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kyiv-based nongovernmental organization.
“A new social contract emerged during the war between civil society, journalists and the government: We will not criticize you like we did before the war, but your reaction to any scandal and ineffectiveness must be as tough as possible,” Shabunin said. “The position of the defense minister has broken this agreement.”