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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is no clean break from corruption

Volodymyr Zelensky promised to ‘clean up’ the Ukrainian government. But he is caught in allegations of corruption himself
Issue 2794
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky shakes hands with former US president Donald Trump

Volodymyr Zelensky was mired in Trump’s presidential scandal (Picture: The Presidential Office of Ukraine)

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is being branded as a “national hero” for his efforts in defending his country against Russian invasion. He also called himself Russia’s “number one target”.

Some media outlets are fondly reminiscing on his previous career as a comedian and actor—including voicing the Ukrainian version of the Paddington film.

Defeats for the Russians in Ukraine will be welcome. But that shouldn’t prettify Zelensky’s history. Zelensky played the role of a school teacher who unexpectedly became president in a 2015 television series. By 2019 he had won the presidency with his new party Servant of the People, named after his show.

He ran on a manifesto of ending corruption in politics, promising to “clean‑up” the government. Two months into his presidency he was caught in allegations of corruption involving then US president Donald Trump. That scandal ended with Trump an impeachment trial.

As one of the first acts of his presidency, Zelensky appointed Andriy Bohdan as head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. Bohdan was the lawyer of a Ukrainian oligarch. Under laws surrounding corruption in Ukraine, Bohdan was not entitled to hold any state office until 2024.

Zelensky also came under criticism for lack of transparency on a trip to Oman in January 2020, despite having criticised previous leaders for their secret trips. He faced further scandal when the Pandora Papers were revealed last October. Despite his “anti‑corruption” manifesto, he and his closest advisors owned a network of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus and Belize.

His anti-Russia and Vladimir Putin stance hardened after these allegations and anger over his handling of the pandemic.

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