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Aliaksandr Kudrytski

Zelenskiy’s Call for Justice Triggers Shakeup in His Government

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismissed at least 10 officials in a government shakeup following an outcry over perceived excesses by civil servants amid the country’s efforts to fight off Russia’s invasion.

Days after giving a speech in which he said a Ukrainian term meaning “justice” or “fairness” 10 times in four minutes, Zelenskiy’s administration announced the dismissal of four deputy ministers and five regional governors. Several other officials announced they would step down on their own. 

The departures follow a public outcry on social media of reports that some officials had traveled abroad to destinations including Spain for the New Year holiday. In one case, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian border service was criticized for going to Paris while her colleagues fought Russian forces in the trenches of eastern Ukraine. 

“Zelenskiy’s personnel decisions testify to the key priorities of the state,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “During the war, everyone should understand their responsibility. The President sees and hears society.” 

Zelenskiy has strong backing from Ukrainians, with opinion polls showing support at above 80%. But his administration has been unable to evade criticism for a problem that has plagued the country’s governments since the fall of the Soviet Union — that some top officials abuse their positions for personal gain with impunity.

Fighting graft is a key condition for Ukraine to continue to tap economic aid from its allies. Despite major changes since Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in 2014, however, Ukraine ranks 122nd out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index, behind Egypt and El Salvador.

A separate issue concerns perks. Zelenskiy banned officials from traveling abroad for non-governmental purposes, following media reports about officials vacationing abroad while most men of fighting age are banned from leaving Ukraine. 

“Ignoring the war is a luxury that no one can afford,” Zelenskiy said in his speech on Sunday. “In a society that feels justice, the unity of people is always stronger.”

The government’s statement didn’t comment on the reasons for the dismissals or whether any of the officials were destined for other positions.

Aside from those dismissed, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, announced his departure on Tuesday, without giving a reason. He had drawn criticism for allegedly using an SUV donated by the US to evacuate people from combat zones. He later publicly gave up the car, sending it to the front areas for humanitarian needs.

Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov also decided to depart, according to a ministry statement that cited what it called “unfounded allegations” over the procurement of food for the military.

“With this step Zelenskiy prods officials, signaling that the war isn’t over and that fight against corruption has resumed,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta research institute in Kyiv. 

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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