Several Ukrainian officials have been dismissed in a large government shakeup
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The dust is still settling on Ukraine's largest government shakeup since Russia's war on the country began almost a year ago. An arrest and allegations of corruption and impropriety have led to the dismissal of several deputy ministers. Ukraine has had problems with graft for decades, but some see the recent removals as a sign that the country is becoming more transparent. To explain, NPR's Joanna Kakissis joins us from Kyiv. Good morning, Joanna.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.
FADEL: So what makes this so significant?
KAKISSIS: Well, Leila, there are a couple of reasons. First of all, this shakeup was prompted by very specific allegations raised by journalists in the last week, which analysts say is a sign that the government is trying to contain the damage. For example, the deputy minister of infrastructure was fired after accusations of bribery. A deputy in the prosecutor general's office got in trouble for taking an unauthorized trip to Spain, and the deputy minister of defense was caught up in a procurement scandal. An investigation by Ukrainian media alleges that the Defense Ministry sometimes purchased food for the military at prices up to three times more than those you would see at the grocery store. The defense minister has said that his staff did nothing wrong.
Secondly, this is all happening at a time when Ukraine is getting tens of billions of dollars in military and other aid from the West.
KAKISSIS: And at least in Congress, for example - in the U.S. Congress - it's likely to get more scrutiny. I spoke to Vitaliy Shabunin of the Anti-Corruption Action Center of Ukraine, and he says the country's history with corruption has made extra scrutiny inevitable - and that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows all eyes are on him.
VITALIY SHABUNIN: (Speaking Ukrainian).
KAKISSIS: So Shabunin's saying now the question for the president is - will he turn a blind eye to the problem? Because this is a problem that hits Ukraine's most important asset inside and outside of the country right now, and that is trust.
FADEL: How have Ukrainians and the West reacted to the shakeup?
KAKISSIS: Well, the Ukrainians we spoke to are generally happy that there are consequences for corruption or impropriety or even decisions just taken in bad faith. To them, it's a sign that things are changing and that politicians don't get to abuse power the way some of them did in the past, including former presidents. The U.S. and the European Union both welcomed Zelenskyy's government swiftly addressing any allegations of impropriety. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that he was not aware of any U.S. aid involved in the scandals. The U.S. and European governments also have to contend with political divisions over aid to Ukraine. They have to assure their constituents that the money going to Ukraine is money well spent.
FADEL: And so how would the scandal impact the actual war effort?
KAKISSIS: Well, this shakeup could also hurt Ukraine in the information war with Russia. Since Ukraine took a hard pro-European turn after a popular uprising about nine years ago, largely driven by corruption concerns, the government has done a lot to make things more transparent. But Russia is trying to portray Ukraine as a weak and corrupt nation. I talked to Timofiy Mylovanov, a former economy minister who is now president of the Kyiv School of Economics, about this, and he explained that the Kremlin is waiting for Ukraine to mess up.
TIMOFIY MYLOVANOV: Russia and Russian propaganda will take advantage of every mistake. You know, Russia is pushing us, and the war is pushing us to be as clean as possible and to address things as fast as possible.
KAKISSIS: He says Ukraine has a long way to go, but there's a cultural shift in the country when it comes to tackling corruption.
FADEL: Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Thank you, Joanna.
KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.