President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired all the heads of Ukraine’s regional army recruitment centres in a sweeping anti-graft move as the war with Russia enters a critical stage.
Zelenskyy announced their dismissal in Kyiv on Friday, broadening his battle against corruption since Russia invaded Ukraine 18 months ago.
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He said a state investigation into centres across Ukraine exposed abuses by officials ranging from illegal enrichment to transporting draft-eligible men across the border despite a wartime ban on them leaving the country.
Zelenskyy also said 112 criminal cases were opened against draft board officials suspected of taking bribes and engaging in corrupt practices.
He used harsh rhetoric likely to be welcomed by Ukrainians appalled by cases of wartime corruption.
“This system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery during war is treason,” he said, adding those fired would be replaced by war veterans and soldiers wounded at the front.
Zelenskyy previously fired senior officials suspected of corruption. That sent a signal to Western allies providing Kyiv with tens of billions of dollars in military aid that Ukraine is serious about clamping down on corruption, which has long plagued the country’s armed forces.
The long-simmering issue of corruption in Ukraine’s draft system burst into the open last June when a media investigation was published about Odesa’s regional draft commissar Yevhen Borysov, igniting a scandal.
The investigation reported on millions of dollars’ worth of real estate and luxury vehicles allegedly owned by Borysov’s family members in Spain. Borysov denied any wrongdoing, saying he had nothing to do with what his family bought.
After the report, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation and its Security Service detained dozens of draft board staff suspected of bribery and corruption.
‘Prove their dignity’
Zelenskyy said any sacked army recruitment officers who are not being investigated should head to the front to fight for Ukraine “if they want to keep their epaulettes and prove their dignity”.
“But let me emphasise: the army is not and never will be a substitute for criminal punishment. Officials who confused epaulettes with perks will definitely face trial,” he said.
Zelenskyy said top General Valery Zaluzhny would be responsible for implementing Friday’s decision and new candidates for the posts would first be vetted by Ukraine’s domestic security service, the SBU.
Despite recent moves against corruption, Ukraine still ranks 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
A Transparency-commissioned opinion poll in June found 77 percent of Ukrainians believe corruption is among the country’s most serious problems.
Zelenskyy was elected in a landslide in 2019 on promises to reform the government and tackle corruption, which plagued the country long before Moscow sent its troops across the border on February 24 last year.