Zelensky can ill afford the corruption that has plagued Ukraine for decades – he had to act

Ukraine’s President Zelensky  (Ukraine President’s Office)
Ukraine’s President Zelensky (Ukraine President’s Office)

Volodymyr Zelensky forcing out a number of government ministers – and the resignation of one of his own senior advisers – puts the spotlight on a problem that has plagued Ukraine since the days of the Soviet Union: pervasive and systemic corruption.

Deputy Infrastructure minister Vasyl Lozinskyi was arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe of $400,000 (£320,000) when the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said it “exposed and stopped the activities of an organised criminal group involved in the embezzlement of budget funds”. He denies the allegations.

Recently, there has been a slew of malpractice claims in Ukraine. The defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has come under fierce criticism after reports that his ministry signed a contract to procure food for the military at inflated prices. The ministry has insisted the high costs resulted from “technical mistakes” – without elaborating further. Mr Reznikov’s deputy, Vyacheslav Shapovalov, resigned on Tuesday claiming the accusations against the ministry were “baseless”.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the presidential office, resigned following reports he has been caught up in scandals involving the use of expensive cars. He denies any wrongdoing and has thanked Mr Zelensky for “the opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute”.

The deputy prosecutor general, Oleksiy Symonenko, has also been removed, as well as a number of deputy ministers from other departments. Personnel from five regional administrations – Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Sumy and Kherson – are due to leave their posts, with more officials following.

Mr Zelensky has indicated that there will be a clearout of officials in the coming days. He said at the weekend while the “main focus of his government is on defence, foreign policy, and war” that “does not mean that I do not see or hear what is being said in society at different levels and we’ll take the necessary powerful steps”.

Ukraine’s president needs to be seen to be acting decisively, both by his own people and the international community. The damaging allegations come as Mr Zelensky is seeking increasing amount of Western military and civilian aid to counter Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Vast sums of international funding will be needed after the war ends. The Ukrainian government says it will need $750bn to rebuild its infrastructure, although think tanks and research institutions put forward a much lower figure.

In 2021 Transparency International ranked the country 122 out of 180 in its ranking of corrupt states. The European Union has stipulated that a key part of Ukraine’s candidacy to join the bloc involves ensuring the application of the rule of law and judicial process – as well as erasing institutional theft and bribery.

The battle to end corruption in Ukraine will need to go on after the guns eventually falls silent in the war.