The vast majority of Ukrainians – 78 percent – say President Volodymyr Zelensky is directly responsible for corruption in the government and military, a poll published on Monday found.
The survey, conducted in July by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, also found that Ukrainians ranked corruption within their own government as a bigger threat to “Ukrainian entrepreneurship” than the ongoing Russian invasion, according to the Kyiv Independent.
The poll was taken after months of investigations, which followed months of firings at the highest levels of governments. Zelensky announced measures to fight bribery and other corrupt activity in his administration in January, firing five governors and four deputy ministers. Those firings came after the ouster of top infrastructure official Vasyl Lozinskyi on suspicions of embezzlement.
Since the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation poll was taken in July, Zelensky has fired every regional recruitment center head for taking bribes from men attempting to avoid the war and has replaced the nation’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov. Reznikov does not face any criminal charges or accusations of direct involvement in corruption at press time, but rumors of corruption preceded his “resignation.”
The string of corruption probes and mounting international concern about where war funding is going has apparently affected the public’s sentiments towards Zelensky, elected in 2019 largely due to his promises to eradicate corruption and his status as a political outsider. Zelensky defeated vocally pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko in the 2019 election despite having no experience in public office; he rose to fame starring as the president of Ukraine in a sitcom.
The Kyiv Independent, translating the results of the poll, found that older Ukrainians were more likely to directly implicate Zelensky in any government corruption. While 78 percent of all Ukrainians said the president is directly responsible for corruption, that number went down to 70 percent among 18-to-29-year-olds – and up to 80 percent among those over 60.
A separate poll detailed in the Democratic Initiatives Foundation analysis taken in August found that over half — 55 percent — of Ukrainian respondents said that military aid from abroad should be conditioned upon Kyiv “effectively” combatting corruption. Notably, the number went down to 40 percent in east Ukraine, where the frontlines of the ongoing Russian invasion are. In the West, furthest away from the war, 60 percent of respondents agreed that Ukraine should have to effectively combat corruption to receive more military aid.
Ukrainians also apparently had less faith in their own government to effectively rebuild after the war than in American and European private enterprise. Given a list of institutions and asked, “Which entity, in your opinion, will first be able to carry out post-war reconstruction effectively and without corruption?” 28.1 percent said “large Western private companies and banks.” Another 18.6 percent said “international financial instututions” such as the World Bank. A total of 25.7 percent answered either Ukrainian state companies or Ukrainian private companies.
Concern regarding corruption in the military escalated last week as Reznikov departed from his role as defense minister.
“I believe that the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and the society at large,” Zelensky said regarding his removal of Reznikov, abstaining from suggesting any wrongdoing. Under Reznikov, however, the Ministry faced accusations of buying overpriced food and supplies for soldiers, raising suspicions of corruption. A report published by the left-wing New York Times last week suggested that “some money has vanished” from the Ukrainian government’s military coffers with no clear explanation.
Prior to Reznikov’s removal, Zelensky also fired all the regional military recruitment office heads in the country on charges of mass bribery – taking money from men seeking to avoid going to the frontlines against Russia.
In a departing interview with the state news outlet Ukrinform, Renizkov claimed that the military required astronomical expenses during his tenure.
“A day of war costs us 100 million dollars,” he said. “The army today is the largest consumer of funds. But funds are also needed for the maintenance of the country as a whole: for infrastructure, for reconstruction, for supporting the socially vulnerable.”
Reznikov said the average Ukrainian was paying these expenses “because they pay taxes and these taxes go to the budget, and from this budget, they also go to the army. Therefore, you have to work and pay taxes.”
During a ceremony on September 7 to introduce Reznikov’s replacement, Rustem Umerov, Zelensky conceded that his administration was struggling to maintain public trust, particularly regarding the operations of the armed forces.
“Today, society is in a very difficult emotional situation. Maximum transparency and maximum maintenance of trust is the strength of the entire sector,” Zelensky said, according to remarks published by his office. “And this will be one of the minister’s priorities.”
Zelensky also strove to ensure the international community that the money they have sent to Ukraine to help fight Russia is not a part of any corruption investigations.
“All these cases are not connected to the help from our partners. So that’s not about the weapons of our partners or money for the weapons, or money for the budget to pay pensions, social support, etc. These are other cases, it’s not about the partners,” Zelensky said on Monday.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal similarly insisted in an interview on Monday that corruption investigations had not found that any foreign money had been lost to corruption – implying that the money involved in that activity came in part from Ukrainian taxpayers.
“All funds that Ukraine earns go to the Army. Our partners provide this opportunity, as all social and budgetary payments are covered from the partners’ funds. We are extremely grateful to them for this,” Shmyhal said, according to Ukrinform.
Shmyhal called the invasion by Russia a “great opportunity … to implement large business projects, large private-state partnership projects.”
Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that analyzes international corruption, ranked Ukraine number 116 of 180 countries on the 2022 edition of its “Corruption Perceptions Index,” a study of corruption around the world. The ranking placed Ukraine in the lower third of countries ranked from least corrupt (number one, Denmark) to most corrupt (number 180, Somalia). Ukraine has long struggled with widespread corruption prior to Zelensky’s administration, however. Eradicating oligarch-driven corruption under previous President Petro Poroshenko was a critical promise of the 2019 Zelensky campaign.
Under Poroshenko, Hunter Biden, the son of left-wing current American President Joe Biden, served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, reportedly earned “as much as $50,000 a month” despite having no relevant experience for the job. Biden, as vice president, was in charge of the White House’s Ukraine policy at the time, but then-President Barack Obama never acknowledged a conflict of interest in Hunter Biden’s association with Burisma.
When a prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, began investigating Burisma for corruption, the elder Biden pressured Poroshenko to fire him, threatening to withhold $1 billion in United States aid to Kyiv if Shokin kept his job – according to Joe Biden himself.
WATCH: Joe Biden boasts of getting Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating Burisma fired:
“I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours,” Biden said in 2018. “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said in June that evidence existed that Biden received $5 million after Shokin was fired.
Joe Biden, now president, lamented in 2021 that Zelensky’s Ukraine was not eligible for NATO membership because “they still have to clean up corruption.”