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President Zelenskyy shakes up Ukraine's Cabinet amid corruption allegations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pays his respects to victims of a deadly helicopter crash during a farewell ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
Efrem Lukatsky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pays his respects to victims of a deadly helicopter crash during a farewell ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

Updated January 24, 2023 at 4:19 PM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — A string of resignations, dismissals and reassignments shook Ukraine's government Monday and Tuesday, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other leaders of the government confirmed the shake-up of high-level positions.

A liaison for Ukraine's Cabinet informed the country's parliament that it had dismissed six deputy ministers and five regional administrators for undisclosed reasons.

During his nightly address Monday, Zelenskyy said "we have already made personnel decisions — some today, some tomorrow — regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government bodies, in the regions, and in the law enforcement system."

The United States welcomed Zelenskyy's "quick and decisive actions," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday, adding that Ukrainians want good governance in the country. Price said the U.S. is not aware that any of its assistance was involved in the allegations but continues its "rigorous oversight."

Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov submitted a hand-written resignation note a day after a news report accused his office of corruption. The report accused Shapovalov of using ministry funds to purchase food and tactical winter clothing at above-market rates, a claim Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov disputes.

"Despite the fact that the accusations are unfounded and baseless, Viacheslav Shapovalov's resignation request follows in the tradition of European and democratic politics, a demonstration that the interests of defense are higher than any cabinet position," Reznikov wrote in the order confirming the resignation.

Meanwhile, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a top Zelenskyy aide also submitted a hand-written resignation note to the president late Monday. Zelenskyy confirmed Tymoshenko's dismissal early Tuesday in a one-line order without citing a reason.

As the war progressed, Tymoshenko formed a circle of young Zelenskyy advisers that achieved a celebrity-like status in Ukraine, posting frequently to social media and making optimistic television appearances. Since Russia escalated its air attacks against Ukrainian utilities in October, Tymoshenko became the government's main coordinator for rebuilding infrastructure and managing civilian humanitarian efforts.

Tymoshenko's resignation comes days after another popular Zelenskyy adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, resigned from his post for spreading misinformation about who was responsible for an airstrike on an apartment building collapse that killed 46 civilians in the city of Dnipro Jan. 14.

In his remarks, Zelenskyy also barred Ukrainian officials from leaving the country after social media posts showed Deputy General Prosecutor Oleksiy Symonenko vacationing in Spain. Under Ukrainian martial law, military-age men are forbidden from leaving Ukraine without expressed permission. Symonenko's superiors confirmed his dismissal Tuesday morning.

The string of dismissals comes as accusations of wartime misconduct have risen in Ukraine, reviving pre-war concerns of endemic corruption in the country. In 2017, Ukraine set up a joint anti-corruption initiative with the European Union as a pretext for joining the 27-member bloc. "Ukraine also has come far in setting up the necessary anti-corruption they have to become fully operational," read an EU statement when Ukraine became an official candidate in 2022. On Monday, the Deputy Infrastructure Minister lost his job after he was arrested for bribery.

Tymofiy Mylovanov, Ukraine's former economics minister, said that Ukraine has taken extensive steps to counter corruption. In a tweet, Mylovanov said the recent corruption scandals were "episodic," rather than "systemic," as European officials have claimed.

But Daria Kaleniuk, the head of Ukraine's Anti-Corruption Action Centre, says Ukraine's commitment to transparency should extend through the entire government, notwithstanding the martial law system currently in force.

"I want to thank law enforcement officers who protect the law, the interests of the state, and ensure justice! I am grateful to the journalists who are looking into all the facts and establishing the full picture!" Zelenskyy said after the scandals started emerging Sunday.

Michele Kelemen contributed reporting from Washington.

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Julian Hayda