“Some took cash, some took cryptocurrency — that’s the only difference,” Zelensky said in a statement published on the official presidential website. “The cynicism is the same everywhere.” Zelensky did not specify the total number of regional recruitment heads.
Ukrainian forces are struggling to advance in their two-month-old counteroffensive against Russia, and there are growing signs of fatigue among Ukrainians after a year and half of grinding conflict.
Zelensky’s announcement is part of a wider effort to root out official corruption, particularly in the military. Critics contend that this campaign is largely for show — aimed at appeasing Western allies and keeping aid money flowing — and has not targeted corruption at the highest levels.
In January, Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov resigned after he was accused of overseeing a scheme to purchase military foodstuffs at inflated prices. Shapovalov denied the charges.
In June, one of the country’s leading news outlets, Ukrainska Pravda, or Ukrainian Truth, published an investigation showing that the family of Yevhen Borysov, the head of the Odessa regional draft center, had “purchased property and cars worth millions of dollars on the Spanish coast” during the war. Borysov denied the charges but was let go soon afterward.
The country’s recruitment centers were put under investigation. Last week, in one of his nightly video addresses, Zelensky said the audit has found widespread malfeasance. “The inspection reveals many abuses,” he said, “frankly, disgusting ones.”
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on its official Telegram channel last week that it has uncovered “a large-scale scheme of issuing certificates of unfitness for military service,” after conducting nearly 100 searches across the country. In one instance, draft officials were selling the certificates for $10,000, the ministry said.
On Friday, Zelensky said that 112 criminal proceedings have been launched against 33 suspects, but he did not provide further details.
The shake-up of the military recruitment system appeared to be all-encompassing. The president said officials would also be dismissed without “evidence of crimes or violations.” If they want to keep their rank “and prove their dignity,” he added, “they should go to the front.”
The commander of Ukraine’s military, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, will oversee the replacement of the recruitment center heads. The new leaders, Zelensky said, would be “warriors who have gone through the front or who cannot be in the trenches because they have lost their health, lost their limbs, but have retained their dignity and have no cynicism.”
Elsewhere on Friday, Ukrainian military authorities ordered the evacuation of thousands of civilians near the northeastern city of Kupiansk, in the Kharkiv region, where Russian forces are reported to be on the offensive and where there is fierce fighting.
Russia also launched four Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles in a midmorning assault Friday, Ukraine’s Air Force said, some of which struck “not far” from a military air base in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region. Ukrainian pilots, some of whom will undergo training in the West, are based there.
Svitlana Onyshchuk, the regional head of Ivano-Frankivsk, said that a child was killed in that attack.
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said on its official Telegram channel that a drone crashed in a forest near Moscow after it was intercepted by an air defense system.
It was the latest in a series of drone attacks on the Russian capital. On Thursday, officials said they intercepted two drones near Moscow and 11 others over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Ukrainian authorities have not claimed responsibility for the drone strikes, but they have pointed at them as evidence that the war is coming toward Russia.
Serhiy Morgunov in Stuttgart, Germany, and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.