UPDATE 5-Zelenskiy fires slew of top officials, cites need to clean up Ukraine
Kyiv: President in tune with society after graft allegations
Graft battle key to Western support, bid for EU accession
(Releads with comments by Ukrainian president)
By Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth
KYIV, Jan 24 (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy fired a slew of senior officials on Tuesday in Ukraine's biggest political shake-up of the war, saying he needed to clean up internal problems that were hurting the country.
A long-running battle against corruption in Ukraine is taking on vital significance as Russia's invasion has made Kyiv heavily reliant on Western support and it pursues a bid to join the European Union.
The clear-out of over a dozen officials came days after the arrest of a deputy minister suspected of graft and allegations that were denied by the Defence Ministry and sparked an outcry.
"Any internal problems that interfere with the state are being cleaned up and will be cleaned up. This is only fair, it is necessary for our protection and it helps our rapprochement with the European institutions," Zelenskiy said.
"We need a strong state, and Ukraine will be just that," he continued in a video address, promising more appointments and unspecified further steps.
Democratic and Republican U.S. lawmakers praised Kyiv for taking swift action against corruption and insisted U.S. military and humanitarian aid should continue.
"The president sees and hears society. And he directly responds to a key public demand – justice for all," Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior Zelenskiy adviser, wrote on Twitter.
The outgoing officials include five regional governors, four deputy ministers and a senior presidential office official seen as close to Zelenskiy.
Some changes had been planned for a while, but were precipitated by a spate of negative headlines, Kyiv-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.
"This is simultaneously an intensification of the fight against corruption, and a reaction from the president ... to critical articles in the media," Fesenko told Reuters.
Some of the announcements appeared linked to corruption accusations while others were entirely unrelated.
Zelenskiy's office said it had accepted the resignation of Kyrylo Tymoshenko, 33, as its deputy head. He gave no reason.
Tymoshenko worked on Zelenskiy's election campaign and had been in his post since 2019, overseeing the regions and regional policies. He had been criticised by local media for driving flashy cars during the invasion, though he denied wrongdoing and said the vehicles had been rented.
Zelenskiy later announced that Tymoshenko would be replaced by Oleksiy Kuleba, the governor of Kyiv region.
The shake-up was made all the more striking coming amid a freeze in domestic politics that has held throughout the war.
Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov tendered his resignation after a local media report accused the ministry of paying inflated prices for food supplies, an old trick used by corrupt officials to skim off money.
The ministry said the allegations were groundless but that the resignation of Shapovalov, who was in charge of army supplies, was a "worthy deed" that would help retain trust in the ministry.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a cabinet meeting that Ukraine was making progress in its anti-corruption campaign. "It is systemic, consecutive work which is very needed for Ukraine and is an integral part of integration with the EU," he said.
Late on Tuesday Zelenskiy published decrees finalising the dismissal of the governors of the regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Sumy and Kherson.
Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko, who had come under fire in local media for holidaying with his family in Marbella in Spain, was removed from his post. (Additional reporting by Max Hunder, David Ljunggren, Ron Popeski and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Mark Heinrich and Daniel Wallis)