As details about the July 25 phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continue to emerge, Oleksandra “Sasha” Ustinova — a member of the Ukrainian parliament who has been fighting corruption in the country for years — said that Ukrainians are reacting to the news differently than Americans are.
For one thing, Ukrainians are paying less attention to what Trump said and more attention to Zelensky’s side of the phone call, Ustinova told Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) Director Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast.
While many Ukrainians acknowledge that the newly-elected Zelensky was in a tough position going into his first conversation with the president of the United States on July 25, many were disappointed to learn that Zelensky promised Trump that the next prosecutor general of Ukraine would be “100 percent my person, my candidate,” especially given the country’s recent controversies surrounding the past two men to serve in that position.
“That is not acceptable,” Ustinova said. “The prosecutor general should be independent. We have already seen many corrupt prosecutor generals.”
Take Viktor Shokin for example, who served as the prosecutor general of Ukraine from 2015 to 2016, explained Ustinova. He is being described by some Americans as an honest man who was forced out of office in part by former Vice President Joe Biden, who supposedly asked the Ukrainian government to fire Shokin because he had been investigating Burisma Holdings, a Ukranian company on which his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board.
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That story couldn’t be farther from the truth, Ustinov said.
“Shokin was not trying to investigate corruption — he was trying to help a former corrupt state official, Mykola Zlochevsky, escape criminal prosecution,” she explained. “I was actually one of the people who organized demonstrations in front of the general prosecution office because everybody was so sick of Shokin, and so disappointed in him for helping former [corrupt] officials to get back into the country.”
Shokin’s successor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who was Ukraine’s prosecutor general from 2016 through August 2019, also did not have the Ukrainian people’s best interests at heart, she said. Under Lutsenko, four of the five outstanding criminal cases against Zlochevsky were shut down. Zlochevsky – a Ukrainian oligarch who founded Burisma Holdings — was required to pay a $4 million fine and was ultimately allowed back in Ukraine.
“Ukrainians know that Shokin and Lutsenko are the bad guys in our country,” she said.. “So of course it was disappointing to hear [people speaking about them in a positive way], but I hope that getting the facts and the truth out there will help a lot of people – not only in Ukraine, but also in the U.S. — to understand who is good and who is bad.”