FPRI BMB Ukraine: Old political habits die hard

FPRI BMB Ukraine: Old political habits die hard
Zelenskiy's government has abruptly fired the human rights ombudswoman in the middle of the war. Appointed by former president Petro Poroshenko, some are asking if politics are back in Kyiv. / wiki
By FPRI BMB Ukraine June 7, 2022

The head of the SBU’s Kharkiv regional branch has abruptly been fired by the president, the general director of the Antonov State Enterprise suspended, and the ombudswoman suddenly dismissed in the middle of the war there’s no doubt, politics in Ukraine is slowly coming back to life. 

The case of Lyudmyla Denisova, the ombudswoman dismissed on May 31 by a parliamentary no-confidence vote, is perhaps more suspicious than the others. While the whole world has its eyes turned to the Ukrainian justice system and its investigations into Russian war crimes, not only is it curious that the president's ruling party decided to get rid of their ombudswoman whose role is to promote and protect human rights  but above all, that lawmakers did so without even naming a successor, as if time was not of the essence. Earlier, a dozen journalists had publicly called for Denisova’s resignation, deeming her statements about Russian sex crimes inappropriate.

Could the fact that Denisova was appointed to her post in 2018, under the mandate of former President Petro Poroshenko, have contributed to her removal? Indeed, it’s no secret that Volodymyr Zelenskiy harbours a certain disdain for his predecessor, who was charged with treason in December 2021 (Poroshenko insists the case is politically motivated). And recent events seem to indicate that the Zelenskiy-Poroshenko rivalry is alive and well. 

Poroshenko was expected at the Nato Parliamentary Assembly in Lithuania at the end of May and had received official permission to leave Ukraine, despite the general mobilisation. Nevertheless, border police twice prevented him from crossing the border, allegedly due to a “technical issue.” Poroshenko’s team then claimed that “the authorities might have broken the ‘political ceasefire’ in place during the war.” Eventually, the former president was allowed to depart for Rotterdam, where he took part in the Summit and Congress of the European People's Party.

Three TV channels owned by Poroshenko were also left out of the “United News telemarathon”  a government-organised, round-the-clock news broadcast that’s been airing on all Ukrainian news channels since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion. What’s more, since May 31, Poroshenko’s channels have been banned from broadcasting online. 

Before Moscow launched its all-out war against Ukraine, Zelenskiy had a troubled relationship with the media, and disillusionment with the president and his government was on the rise. Today, stepping up to the plate in wartime has made Zelenskiy the undisputed leader of the nation. But there’s a chance he and his team are falling back into old habits.

This article originally appeared in FPRI's BMB Ukraine newsletter. Click here to learn more about BMB Ukraine and subscribe to the newsletter.

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