KYIV – Ukraine dismissed the governors of five battlefield provinces and an array of other senior officials on Tuesday in the biggest shakeup of its wartime leadership since Russia’s invasion in 2022.
Separately on Tuesday, a long-awaited decision on whether allies could send German-made heavy tanks to Ukraine finally reached Berlin, after Poland said it formally sent its request.
Among more than a dozen senior Ukrainian officials who resigned or were dismissed were the governors of the Kyiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. All five regions have been major battlefields over the past year, giving their governors an unusually high national profile.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, the deputy head of the presidential administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko and deputy prosecutor-general Oleksiy Symonenko were also among the top officials who stood down.
Ukraine has a history of endemic corruption, including among the political elite, but efforts to stamp out graft have been overshadowed by Moscow’s full-scale war that began in February.
Kyiv’s Western allies, which have allocated billions of dollars in financial and military support, have been pushing for anti-corruption reforms for years, sometimes as a precondition for aid.
“There are already personnel decisions – some today, some tomorrow – regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an overnight video address.
His aide, Mr Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted: “The president sees and hears society, and he directly responds to a key public demand – justice for all.”
The purge came two days after a deputy infrastructure minister was arrested and accused of siphoning off US$400,000 (S$528,000) from contracts to buy generators in one of the first big corruption scandals to become public since the war began 11 months ago.
The defence ministry announced the resignation of Mr Shapovalov, who was in charge of the army’s logistical support, on the heels of accusations he was signing food contracts at inflated prices.
Local media reports last week accused the ministry of having signed a deal at prices “two to three times higher” than current rates for basic food stuffs.
In a statement, the ministry insisted the accusations were “unfounded and baseless” but said Mr Shapovalov’s departure would “preserve the trust of society and international partners”.
Mr Tymoshenko, who has worked with Mr Zelensky since his election in 2019 and oversaw regional policy, also announced his resignation on Tuesday.
He posted a photo of himself holding a handwritten resignation letter, thanking Mr Zelensky for the “opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute”.
Mr Tymoshenko was implicated in several scandals during his tenure, including in October 2022 when he was accused of using a car donated to Ukraine for humanitarian purposes.
The dismissal of Mr Symonenko comes following media reports that he spent a holiday in Spain this winter, reportedly using a car belonging to a Ukrainian businessman.
Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122 out of 180 in its corruption ranking for 2021.
The shake-up comes after a Ukrainian deputy minister of development of communities, territories and infrastructure was sacked over the weekend following his arrest on suspicion of embezzlement.
Mr Vasyl Lozynkiy was accused of receiving a bribe to “facilitate” the purchase of generators at inflated prices as Ukraine faces electricity shortages following Russian strikes on the energy grid.
The European Union has highlighted anti-corruption measures as one of the key reforms Ukraine needs to gain candidate status for the bloc.
According to the Centre for Economic Strategy, a Ukrainian think tank, the total amount of Western military and financial support for Kyiv could total US$100 billion (S$132 billion) in 2023, including more than US$40 billion for its armed forces, as Ukraine gears up for expected offensives this spring.
Mr Zelensky said on Sunday that he hoped the dismissal of Mr Lozynkiy would send a “signal to all those whose actions or behaviour violate the principle of justice”.
“I want this to be clear: There will be no return to what used to be in the past,” he said.
The changes are a rare shake-up of an otherwise notably stable wartime leadership in Kyiv. Apart from purging a spy agency in July, Mr Zelensky has mostly stuck with his team, built around fellow political novices the former television actor brought into power.
Poland offers its Leopards
The leadership revamp came as Poland announced that it had officially asked for Germany’s permission to export German-made tanks to Ukraine.
This appears to leave German Chancellor Olaf Scholz little room to continue putting off a decision in what has become the main debate among allies over how best to support Ukraine.
Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has said Mr Scholz is already talking to Berlin’s allies about sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and a decision to ship them could come in the next few days.
He said nations with Leopard 2s in their militaries may actually start training Ukrainians on how to use these lethal main battle tanks.
“I am preparing for a possible decision to send the Leopard tanks and to allow other European and Nato partners to do the same,” Mr Pistorius said in an interview on Tuesday with public broadcaster ZDF, pushing back against the suggestion that Germany is dragging its feet.
“If the decision takes one or two days, then that’s just the way it is,” he said.
Nato chief Jen Stoltenberg said he welcomes the “clear message” from Berlin “because after a decision has been taken on the delivery on battle tanks, it will take some time to identify, to make them ready and to train Ukrainian solders to use them”.
“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” he said.
Frontlines in the war have been largely frozen in place for two months despite heavy losses on both sides.
Russia and Ukraine are both widely believed to be planning offensives in the coming months.
A Ukrainian official said the upcoming spring and summer would be decisive.
“If the major Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the ruin of Russia and Putin,” Mr Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in an interview with news site Delfi. REUTERS, AFP