Headhunters: Ukrainian officials are being fired en masse. Why now, what are they charged with, and can we celebrate the victory over corruption?
Being an official in Ukraine is still profitable, but increasingly risky
In less than two weeks, more high-profile resignations have occurred in Ukrainian politics than in the past war year. On February 1 alone, about two dozen officials were forced to leave their posts. As President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address that day, "the movement towards justice is palpable." One deputy head of the Presidential Office, four prosecutors, five provincial governors, the entire management of the State Customs Service, and one MP, Mykola Tyshchenko, who was just out of luck, lost their offices.
Why were there total resignations? The wave of resignations is formed by two complementary trends. The first is unambiguously expressed external claims about the level of corruption, which had to be demonstrated before the Ukraine-EU summit scheduled for February 3. The second is the increasingly loud criticism of the authorities within the country. And the developed sense of self-preservation of the latter, embodied in the willingness to sacrifice their own. All of this has been exacerbated by "local overreach," which makes a number of resignations look situational, as well as intergroup warfare that is successfully disguised as the fight against corruption.
On the eve of the EU-Ukraine summit, MEPs adopted a resolution reaffirming their commitment to Ukraine's membership in the EU. They called for "working towards the start of accession negotiations and supporting a roadmap that defines the next steps to ensure Ukraine's accession to the EU single market." During a joint meeting of the European Commission and the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen also made several promising statements that the day when "the Ukrainian flag will be raised where it belongs – in front of the Berlamont building in Brussels" will inevitably come. And the European Commission will support Ukraine on this path.
It is clear that all of this could not be addressed to a country in which corruption scandals are raging, in particular, related to procurement for the needs of the army, if the authorities do not demonstrate at least an attempt to respond adequately to them.
To what extent are the steps taken effective? There is no reason to complain about the lack of demonstrated effort. Spectacular gestures such as the dismissal of the Customs Service's entire management in one day, as well as searches of the beneficiary of the Privat group, Igor Kolomoisky, in the case of fraud in Ukrtatnafta and Ukrnafta worth UAH 40 billion, with photos of the first and second events being prudently distributed, filled the media landscape. But the level of trust in the seriousness of law enforcement's intentions is still far from absolute.
As MP Yaroslav Zhelezniak from the Voice party reminds us, it is too early to talk about an effective fight against corruption until the case goes to court, or better yet, specific verdicts. It is also obvious that some of the ostentatious searches and claims of law enforcement officers are addressed to domestic consumers, not external donors. For example, it is extremely doubtful that Vadym Stolar, a Kyiv real estate developer, means anything to the State Department. Instead, the searches of his property – also carefully "highlighted" by the security forces – were vigorously discussed by Kyiv residents.
The same logic apparently led to the loss of Mykola Tyshchenko's position of deputy leader of the Servant of the People party, who was swiftly sacrificed to public opinion.
What will happen next in the vertical power structure? January has shaped the image catastrophe of the collective government. At its centre is a scandal involving the Ministry of Defense's procurement of overpriced food. So it may not end with the dismissal of a few line executives in the ministry.
The scale of the global political damage will be clear in the nearest ratings measurements, but the desire to compensate for the consequences is already evident. Thus, attempting to please the public, Zelensky even commented on parties that had been held in Kyiv, where the hosts, twenty-year-old guys from Ivano-Frankivsk, were alcoholizing girls and posting videos online. Despite the publicity of this case, it is unlikely that it should be a priority for the president of the country at war, and it could also be seen as putting pressure on the investigation.
While the presidential team is saving its own ratings, ordinary officials are in a position of "every man for himself" – without the slightest chance of predicting their own future and career prospects. As one of the young second-tier heads of a central executive body put it, his office boils down to the following: "No money, no respect, and in the long run, visits to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau regardless of the results achieved."
Mind summarised the most high-profile resignations of the last two weeks and their reasons.
|Vasyl Lozynsky||Deputy Minister of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure||January 22||Detained while accepting a $400,000 bribe.|
|Kyrylo Tymoshenko||Deputy Head of the Presidential Office (PO) January 24||January 24||Intragroup struggle, cumulative result of scandals, including the use of a Chevrolet Tahoe for personal purposes, which was donated by General Motors to Ukraine.|
|Valentyn Reznychenko||Head of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Military Administration||January 24||Cumulative result of corruption scandals; engagement of companies owned by people close to the regional authorities in road repair contracts.|
|Oleksandr Starukh||Head of Zaporizhzhya OMA||January 24||Scandal related to non-transparent distribution of humanitarian aid.|
Head of Kyiv OMA
|January 24||Relocated to the PO as deputy head.|
|Dmytro Zhyvytsk||Head of Sumy OMA||January 24||Scandals related to construction contracts. People from his team traveled abroad with the governor's permission.|
|Yaroslav Yanushevych||Head of Kherson OMA||January 24||24 n/a, Yanushevych was in the office for only about five months.|
|Vyacheslav Shapovalov||Deputy Minister of Defense January 24||January 24||At the first stage of the scandal, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov approved the resignation of his deputy, who was responsible for procurement. A few days later, Shapovalov ended up in a pre-trial detention centre and appears to have been designated as the main culprit.|
|Oleksiy Symonenko||Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine||January 24||
Traveled to Spain to visit family for the New Year holidays. The trip was legal, but using the car of the odious Lviv businessman Grygoriy Kozlovsky.
In general, this resignation was a reaction to public outrage.
Acting Head of the State Customs Service
The dismissal of the State Customs leadership is a demonstrative fight against corruption for Western partners, who have directly pointed to abuses in the importation of goods (including humanitarian goods) into Ukraine.
It is noteworthy that the person who is called (however, without evidence) the main supervisor of the Customs was not fired, but only suspended.
|Oleksandr Shchutsky||First Deputy Head of the State Customs Service||February 1|
|Ruslan Cherkasky||Deputy Head of the State Customs Service||February 1 (suspended from office)|
|Oksana Datiy||Acting Head of the Kyiv Tax Service||February 1 (served with charges)||
She is accused of unlawful decisions on the compliance or non-compliance with the riskiness criteria of taxpayers and illegal VAT refund schemes.
Intragroup struggle for the control over the Tax Service, disguised as a fight against corruption.
|Vladyslav Atroshenko||Mayor of Chernigiv||February 1 (Lviv Court of Appeal decision)||
By the court ruling, he was removed from the mayor's office for a year for an administrative offense – using official vehicles for personal purposes.
A political decision related to Atroshenko's support for potential competitors of Bankova Street.
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