Ukrainian graft scandal results in 9 vacant posts

Deputy ministers, governors exit; no charges announced

A Ukrainian soldier looks out of an APC during combat training in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Kateryna Klochko)

KYIV, Ukraine -- Several senior Ukrainian officials, including frontline governors, lost their jobs Tuesday in a corruption scandal plaguing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government as it grapples with the nearly 11-month-old Russian invasion.

Ukraine's biggest government shakeup since the war began comes as officials in several countries, including the United States, have demanded more accountability for the aid, given Ukraine's rampant corruption.

While Zelenskyy and his aides portray the resignations and firings as proof of their efforts to crack down, the wartime scandal could play into Moscow's political attacks on the leadership in Kyiv.

The shakeup even touched Zelenskyy's office. Its deputy head, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, prominent for his frequent battlefield updates, quit as the president pledged to address allegations of graft -- including some related to military spending -- that could slow Ukraine's efforts to join the European Union and NATO.

Tymoshenko asked to be relieved of his duties. He didn't cite a reason.

Local media said Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov also resigned, in connection with a scandal involving the purchase of food for Ukraine's armed forces. Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko also quit.

In all, four deputy ministers and five governors of frontline provinces were set to leave their posts, the country's cabinet secretary said on the Telegram messaging app.

Authorities did not announce any criminal charges. There was no immediate explanation.

The departures thinned government ranks already diminished by the deaths of the interior minister, who oversaw Ukraine's police and emergency services, and others in the ministry's leadership in a helicopter crash last week.

Vasyl Lozynsky, a deputy infrastructure minister, was fired Sunday for his reported participation in a network embezzling budget funds.

Ukraine's anti-corruption agency detained him while he was receiving a $400,000 bribe for helping fix contracts for restoring facilities battered by Russian missile strikes, according to Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov. He was put under house arrest, told to surrender his passport, ordered to wear a monitoring device and told not to communicate with witnesses.

In a video address Tuesday, Zelenskyy said, "Any internal problems that hinder the state are being cleaned up and will be cleaned up. It is fair, it is necessary for our defense, and it helps our rapprochement with European institutions."

Analysts say his message was that corruption won't be tolerated.

"It's very hard to save the country when there's a lot of corruption," Andrii Borovyk, the executive director of Transparency International Ukraine, a nonprofit that fights corruption, told The Associated Press.

Transparency International, in its 2021 report on worldwide corruption, ranked Ukraine 122 out of 180 countries, with 180 representing the most corrupt. Russia ranked even lower at 136.

Entrenched corruption has long made foreign investors and governments wary of doing business with Ukraine. Allegations by Ukraine's journalists and nonprofits about corruption at high levels of government, in courts and in business, have lingered under Zelenskyy despite a proliferation of anti-corruption panels and measures, according to a U.S. State Department 2020 country report.

A major corruption scandal could endanger the tens of billions of dollars the U.S. and its allies are pouring into Ukraine to keep Ukraine's fighters armed, civil servants paid and the lights on. It could risk sinking political support for Ukraine from the United States.

"We welcome the quick action that President Zelenskyy is taking in this case, as well as the action of Ukraine's anti-corruption institutions, civil society and media to ensure effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement and to hold those in positions of public trust to account," the White House National Security Council said in a statement.

Last June, the EU agreed to put Ukraine on a path toward membership in the bloc. To join, countries must meet economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles.

Ukraine has applied to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation because of the country's contested borders, defense establishment shortcomings and, in part, its corruption issues.

Meanwhile, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto suggested that his country may consider joining NATO without neighboring Sweden if Turkey blocks their joint bid to enter the military alliance. Although he later backpedaled, his comments were the first by a senior official in either Nordic country raising doubts about becoming NATO members together while the alliance is seeking to present a united front to counter Russia's invasion.

Sweden and Finland rushed to apply for NATO membership after Moscow's invasion, abandoning their longstanding nonalignment policy. Their accession needs the approval of all NATO members, including Turkey, which has blocked the expansion, saying Sweden must crack down on exiled Kurdish militants and their sympathizers.

In other developments, two British volunteers who had been reported missing in eastern Ukraine have been killed, according to a family statement released Tuesday.

Ukrainian police said that on Jan. 9 they lost contact with Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28, while heading to the town of Soledar, in the eastern Donetsk region.

Parry's family confirmed in a statement released through Britain's Foreign Office that both men were killed.

"It is with great sadness we have to announce that our beloved Chrissy has been killed along with his colleague Andrew Bagshaw whilst attempting a humanitarian evacuation from Soledar, eastern Ukraine," it said.

The statement added that Parry "found himself drawn to Ukraine in March in its darkest hour at the start of the Russian invasion and helped those most in need, saving over 400 lives plus many abandoned animals."

Bagshaw, a resident of New Zealand, was in Ukraine to assist in delivering humanitarian aid, according to New Zealand media reports.

Information for this article was contributed by Andrew Meldrum, Yuras Karmanau, Malak Harb, Ellen Knickmeyer, Lolita C. Baldor, Matthew Lee and staff members of The Associated Press.

  photo  A Ukrainian soldier looks out of an APC during combat training in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Kateryna Klochko)
  photo  In this undated photo Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the office of the President of Ukraine pose for a photo in Kyiv, Ukraine. The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office has quit, after the president pledged a staff shake-up amid high-level corruption allegations during the war with Russia. Kyrylo Tymoshenko asked to be relieved of his duties, according to an online copy of a decree signed by President Volodymyr  Zelenskyy and Tymoshenko’s own social media posts. Neither gave a reason for the resignation. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
  photo  Ukrainian servicemen attend combat training in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Kateryna Klochko)
  photo  A Ukrainian soldier looks out of an APC during combat training in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Kateryna Klochko)
  photo  FILE --A Leopard 2 tank is pictured during a demonstration event held for the media by the German Bundeswehr in Munster near Hannover, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Poland will apply to the German government for permission to supply the German-made Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
  photo  FILE - A soldier walks past a line of M1 Abrams tanks, Nov. 29, 2016, at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo. In what would be a reversal, the Biden administration is poised to approve sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, U.S. officials said Tuesday, as international reluctance toward sending tanks to the battlefront against the Russians begins to erode. The decision could be announced as soon as Wednesday though it could take months or years for the tanks to be delivered. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP, File)
  photo  Pentagon spokesman U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  photo  In this undated photo Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine Viacheslav Shapovalov pose for a photo in Kyiv, Ukraine. Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov resigned, local media reported Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, alleging his departure was linked to a scandal involving the purchase of food for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. (Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Office via AP)
  photo  In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto after their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)