KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — With Russian shelling across the country showing no signs of easing, Ukraine's leaders on Monday looked to strengthen their own ranks after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy removed two senior officials over allegations they hadn't cleared their agencies of “collaborators and traitors.”
Internal investigations were to be launched after Ivan Bakanov, the head of Ukraine’s Security Service, or SBU, and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, were dismissed. Acting heads of the two agencies have been appointed.
Zelenskyy cited hundreds of criminal proceedings into treason and collaboration by people within those departments and other law enforcement agencies.
“Six months into the war, we continue to uncover loads of these people in each of these agencies," Andriy Smirnov, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said Monday.
Analysts said the move is designed to strengthen Zelenskyy's control over the army and security agencies, which have been led by people appointed before the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. Zelenskyy “needs an effective Prosecutor (General’s) office, and (an effective) SBU" agency, Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst with the Penta Center think tank, told The Associated Press.
“In the conditions of a war, Zelenskyy needs leaders that are capable of tackling several tasks at the same time -- to resist Russia’s intrigues within the country to create a fifth column, to be in contact and coordination with international experts, to do their actual job effectively,” Fesenko said.
Bakanov is a childhood friend and former business partner of Zelenskyy, who appointed him to head the SBU. Bakanov had come under growing criticism over security breaches since the war began.
Venediktova won international praise for her drive to gather war-crimes evidence against Russian military commanders and officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, over the destruction of Ukrainian cities and the killing of civilians. The 43-year-old former law professor opened thousands of criminal investigations and identified hundreds of suspects, interviewing victims while coordinating efforts with foreign donors and officials.
After appointing an acting chief prosecutor on Sunday, Zelenskyy signed a decree Monday naming the first deputy head of the SBU, Vasyl Maliuk, as acting head. Maliuk, 39, is known for efforts to fight corruption in the security agencies; his appointment was seen as part of Zelenskyy's efforts to get rid of pro-Russian staffers in the SBU.
“Maliuk was fighting corruption within the SBU, so (he) has compromising materials on many staff members and can control the personnel, many of whom are looking in the direction of Russia,” political analyst Vadym Karasiov, head of the Global Strategies Institute, told the AP.
Fesenko added that discontent with the two officials has been brewing for a while, and it was possible that Ukraine’s Western partners pointed out the underperformance of the SBU and the prosecutor general's office to Zelenskyy.
Meanwhile, Russia pressed forward with its missile and shelling attacks, which Ukrainian officials said were designed to intimidate the civilian population and create panic. Ukraine's presidential office said seven Ukrainian regions had suffered from attacks in the previous 24 hours.
Ukraine’s Emergency Service said at least six people were killed by Russian shelling Monday targeting the city of Toretsk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Toretsk was taken briefly in the Russian invasion of 2014, but Ukrainian forces ended up taking the city back.
Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian shelling of the region is incessant. Four Russian strikes had been carried out on the city of Kramatorsk, he said, urging civilians to evacuate.
“We’re seeing that the Russians want to sow fear and panic,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks. “The front line is moving, so civilians must leave the region and evacuate.”
Nearly a 1,000 civilians were evacuated to Ukraine on Monday from Russian-held territories in the northern Kharkiv region, Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said. About a third of the region remains in Russian hands after Moscow’s troops overran it in April. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city, and is close to the border with Russia.
In Kyiv on Monday, a funeral was held at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery for a Ukrainian solider killed when his car hit a land mine near Izium last week. His family couldn't bury him in their hometown in eastern Ukraine because it remains under Russian occupation.
The cathedral was packed with mourners paying their last respects to Fanat, as the soldier was known. Whenever the priest paused, the voice of the soldier's mother echoed in the church.
"We will love you forever and ever. We will miss you so much!" she cried, caressing the closed coffin. “Why do we need to live in this cursed war?”
In other developments Monday:
— Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected troops involved in the fighting in Ukraine and ordered the military to prioritize destruction of Ukraine’s long-range missiles and artillery, according to a ministry statement. It was not immediately clear when or where the inspection took place.
— A new round of talks about the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports could take place in Turkey later this week, said Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Turkey last week hosted a meeting between U.N. officials and military delegations from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey to discuss a U.N. plan to allow Ukraine to export grains through the Black Sea, and for Russia to be allowed to export grain and fertilizers. The date for the new meeting was not announced. Some 22 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine because of the war.
— Ukraine says some Russian forces have been using topographical maps from 1969 as they fight in the country’s east. The Ukrainian military’s general staff, citing the country’s internal security service, said the maps were used by Russian troops fighting around the Kharkiv but did not have buildings built since the early 1970s.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Susie Blann, The Associated Press