Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine Viacheslav Shapovalov
In this undated photo Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine Viacheslav Shapovalov poses for a photo in Kyiv, Ukraine. Shapovalov resigned, local media reported Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, alleging his departure was linked to a scandal involving the purchase of food for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Image Credit: Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Office via AP

Kyiv: Several senior Ukrainian officials announced their resignations Tuesday as the defence ministry was shaken by accusations of food procurement fraud, in the country’s largest corruption scandal since the start of Russia’s attack.

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.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, the deputy head of the presidential administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko and deputy prosecutor general Oleksiy Symonenko were among the officials who stood down.

The defence ministry announced the resignation of Shapovalov, who was in charge of the army’s logistical support, on the heels of accusations it 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 foodstuffs.

In a statement, the ministry insisted the accusations were “unfounded and baseless” but said Shapovalov’s departure would “preserve the trust of society and international partners”.

Tymoshenko, who has worked with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky since his election in 2019 and oversaw regional policy, also announced his resignation Tuesday.

He posted a photo of himself holding a handwritten resignation letter, thanking the president for the “opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute”.

Tymoshenko was implicated in several scandals during his tenure, including in October last year when he was accused of using a car donated to Ukraine for humanitarian purposes.

The dismissal of Symonenko, a deputy prosecutor general, comes after media reports that he spent a holiday in Spain this winter, reportedly using a car belonging to a Ukrainian businessman.

Stubborn problem

In his evening address on Monday, Zelensky announced coming “personnel decisions” at various levels and said he was banning officials from travelling abroad for purposes not related to work.

“If they want to rest now, they will rest outside the civil service,” Zelensky said.

Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122 out of 180 in its corruption ranking for 2021.

The shakeups come after a Ukrainian deputy minister of development of communities, territories and infrastructure was sacked over the weekend following his arrest on suspicion of embezzlement.

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 $100 billion this year, including more than $40 billion for its armed forces.