A Ukrainian official’s announcement that mice had eaten some 30 million dollars worth of grain in the state reserves – enough to fill some 2,700 containers – has stirred a wave of concern in the country.
Mykhaylo Apostol, an adviser to the interior minister, quickly clarified that he was really talking about shortages caused by corruption and that his reference to mice – who “have names, job titles and must be brought to account in line with the law” – was intended to draw attention to a problem ignored for decades.
Most people responded with mirthful disbelief on social media.
Entrepreneur Roman Grabezhov laid out long calculations to argue that it would take “almost a billion mice” to eat that much grain and a popular Facebook community Baba i Kit featured a mugshot of Mickey Mouse holding a sign and admitting to his guilt.
But others said the situation was far from funny.
Corruption in Ukraine is a massive problem which has been compounding the country’s challenges in dealing with Russia’s incursion into its territory since 2014 and the coronavirus pandemic.
Second most corrupt in Europe
In 2019, Ukraine ranked 126th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – making it the second most corrupt country in Europe after Russia.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration came into power last year vowing to tackle the issue, but has not reached all its anti-corruption targets.
A much-needed 5.5-billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund, which is crucial to the country’s economic recovery, has been dependent on such reforms.
State reserve is ‘only 3% full’
The shortage of grain was discovered during an audit of the State Reserve and a criminal case has been launched into it.
The “safety net of a country of 40 million people has been blatantly stolen and sold,” Apostol said.
“Ukraine’s state reserves are empty,” the Zerkalo Nedeli website reported.
Zerkalo Nedeli also pointed out that the former head of the State Reserve Agency, Yaroslav Pohorilyy, who had initiated and carried out spot checks in state companies that were part of the State Reserve, had been dismissed in May without clear grounds or any explanation.
In an interview with the site, Pohorilyy said agency audits had shown “blatant abuses, large losses… and [that] the state reserve itself is only 3 per cent full”.
Reporting by Yana Lyushnevskaya