Bohdan Nahaylo: President Zelensky, what is going on?

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to you because I am very concerned about what is happening (or failing to happen?) in the country under your leadership.

I want to share some thoughts about this with you because I care about Ukraine and you, too, as its hard-pressed president.

I do not know you personally, and I am not your enemy. I am one of those who in 2019 believed that the country needed to get back on the track of genuine reforms and move forward; that the old system and its corrupt ways, complete with the exploitation of patriotism for self-serving political ends, increasingly exemplified by your predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, needed to be broken; that new forces truly committed to the ideals of the EuroMaidan Revolution, European values, and the consolidation of a modern and thriving inclusive Ukrainian political nation finally be given the chance to make a difference.

Mr. President, you became famous because you had talent that connected with the people in a popular way. Your show ‘Servant of the People’ suggested that you understood the difficulties and needs of your people.

Mr. President you embodied hope and the vast majority of the voters did not dwell on your credentials and inexperience, but took at face value your promises as a candidate from outside the system to bring fundamental change.

I could not vote. I am not a Ukrainian citizen, having been born of Ukrainian parents in England. But you will see from my track record that I have been defending the cause of the freedom of Ukraine and its people since before you were born.

I had to face criticism and even abuse from some of my “patriotic” friends who preferred the “devil they knew” rather than coming out of their comfort zones, taking the pulse of the country, and giving a political newcomer championing transformation a chance.

You won by a landslide. Once you had also secured a majority in parliament, the way seemed open to you to shake up the system and enhance the destiny of your country.

A year later we are asking what has happened?  What has gone wrong?  Where are the results you promised, or at least the start of the work that they require? Are you even in control of things?

Yes, unfortunately, the war rages on in the Donbas, and as you have convinced yourself, Russia, and particularly its current tsar for life, is only interested in “peace in our time” on his terms.

The unexpected debilitating impact of the coronavirus pandemic has thwarted plans for meaningful economic recovery and growth.

Yes, we understand these constraining factors and do not blame you for the complications arising from them. But there is much that we do not understand from your behavior in light of your promises, the image you projected, and the vision you proposed.

For a start, the cronyism and secrecy which has become characteristic of your administration is an affront to those who believed you. You have not opened up your team to the best and the brightest; in fact, you have fired some of the most capable people that were available. You complain about a shortage of qualified professionals, but you and your team do not seem to have made any serious effort to find them, let alone entrust such people.

Hence, nepotism, amateurism, and improvisation are seen as the hallmarks of your presidency. It appeared for a while that your closest aide and chief of staff, the capable but overly ebullient, Andriy Bohdan, was the real power behind your new throne.  You fired him only to make a darker horse, Andriy Yermak, just as influential, assigning foreign policy, relations with Russia, and other critical areas to him. He, like Bohdan, is your close friend, and that appears to be for you the defining criterion.

Power corrupts. In the absence of openness and an independent judiciary, where are the checks, balances, and openness you promised?

Meanwhile, the oligarchs appear to have regrouped and in effect put you, as it seems to many of us, in what they consider to be your place – as a servant not of the people, but of theirs.

Poroshenko is an oligarch himself, so he could at least claim the role of a primus inter pares among them, a balancer of interests, whereas you seem to be increasing caught, as the English say between a rock and a hard place, that is between the two most influential and politically active oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov and Ihor Kolomoisky.

Mr. President, do you think that we do not see what has been going on in the energy sector as the oligarchs and their auxiliaries reassert their monopolistic control?

And within your own party – Servant of the People. On paper, its 247 members still constitute a single-party majority in the parliament. But what an embarrassing shambles this hastily assembled group of supposed supporters of your political vision has shown itself to be.

And I don’t mean just the periodic scandals.

Two or three dozen of its deputies make no secret of their loyalty to Kolomoisky and simply abuse their mandates that your party provided them with. You turn a blind eye to their disgracing your party.

Your one-party majority faction has in fact split, and you are dependent on the votes of your political opponents which as we know requires behind the scenes trade-offs.

Does Servant of the People, in fact, have any particular ideology, or is it simply a case of ad hoc responses to instructions from your office?

I realize that political vagueness had its merits when you were seeking and coming to power. But today given the reconfiguration of forces in the parliament with the pro-Russian elements led by the likes of Viktor Medvechuk, forming an unwritten if convenient alliance with Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and Kolomoisky’s supporters, all promoting an anti-Western line, you and your party can no longer afford to remain so wishy-washy.

After all, there will be local elections later this year and it would be helpful to know what your party stands for programmatically, in other words, what you yourself represent at this stage. Otherwise, they will turn into a free for all with the wealthiest local barons consolidating their influence and telling you and Kyiv to mind your own business.

It is possible that you are already considering early parliamentary elections once the coronavirus subsides, as a way of getting out of the current stifling political impasse. There is a reformed electoral code to help you, as would the proposed reduction of the number of seats in the parliament.

If so, elaboration of your political strategy is all the more important.

I am not even going to touch upon the critical issues of relaunching genuine legal reform and somehow giving the law enforcement and security serves greater credibility. Or ask you how on earth you can justify appointments avoiding parliament’s approval of such dubious figures as the acting ministers of education and energy.

At the same time, the fact that respected people in strategically important posts are forced to leave and are pointing the finger at your team is very worrying both at home and abroad. When the head of the country’s central bank resigns and accuses your office of applying political pressure, and simultaneously the head of the Anti-Monopoly Committee does the same, this is very disconcerting.

A year ago you fired Oleksandr Danylyuk whom many considered to be a promising candidate for prime minister  This May, another figure regarded as having all the makings of an effective reformist prime minister, Yuriy Vitrenko, was removed by Naftogaz even though he had spearheaded the Ukrainian historic victory over Gazprom in international arbitration, won billions for Ukraine and helped you personally to confront Putin on this issue last December in Paris. It could not have happened without your approval.

Mr. President, what is going on?

Those who voted for you are asking: are you exhausted, out of your depth, surrounded by the wrong people, taken hostage by the oligarchs, or, even, as your most bitter foes claim, perhaps an imposter?

Your plummeting ratings tell you that you are letting the side down and that unless you re-focus and take firmer control of the ship of state and show that you know where to steer it, it will hit the rocks.  But before that happens, as you know, there are forces playing on the rising disappointment in order to create a mutiny on board.

Mr. President, all is not lost.  You still have a chance to save the situation. Remember, you secured more support than any other leader in Ukraine’s modern history.

Do not be afraid of your nation.  Listen to it, speak to it. Reinvent yourself.  Purge your ranks of those who hold you back, appeal for help and understanding. They will arrive. Do not leave it too late and allow the political dinosaurs to devour you and us.

Your TV persona Holoborodko encouraged people to believe that with clear-mindedness, integrity, and determination it is possible to overcome the odds.

Mr. President, you have a choice: to reaffirm the ideals Holoborodko-Zelensky espoused, or to be co-opted by the dark lords of the reprehensible system that has plundered Ukraine for so long and betray those who empowered you and your declared mission.

(c) KyivPost


  1. Nice article, but I think the author is too late. Zelensky has already shown he is nothing more than a figurehead for Kolomoisky or Russia. His aim is to do as much damage as possible to Ukraine, and allow Russia full control of the country.

  2. I think the term “oligarch” is not appropriate for Poro. Oligarchs are always crooked, often evil and always made their money by thieving off the state. Poro is none of those things: he studied the Unilever/P&G business model and found an opportunity for being the first mass importer of cocoa in Ukraine. He created a world class fmcg company that provides professional careers for many thousands and produces excellent tax revenue for the nation. He is the most patriotic of leaders: he put his own money into the armed forces and protected Ukraine from a savage and evil enemy. He is Ukraine’s Churchill. He needs to be back in power ASAP.

  3. In the post soviet political space, successful leaders offering hope and freedom have been ruthlessly targeted by the demonic neighbour. Yushchenko was poisoned and made a miraculous recovery, Tymoshenko was locked up (query: as per this article, is she really a defacto ally of Boyko/Medvedchuk?), Sakashvili, who was incredibly successful; was invaded, trumped up charges made against him and driven into exile. And then we come to Poro, who is getting the same treatment as in Georgia, where an oligarch emerged who seemed to be pro-Georgia but was in fact a pure putlerite as the people now know. He sponsored a new party with a figurehead ruler and took power. That oligarch was Ivanishvili. In Ukraine, playing the Ivanishvili role, is Kolomoisky, with of course Zel as his point man.

    • This guy is so fake. As for Tymoshenko, she is pro-US, not very much pro-EU, other than ten years ago. Petro is too EU/German-friendly, and there Fatherland and European solidarity have friction. Anyway, she is not with Boyko, but she’s not with Poro either. Maybe the latter will change again. Depends on what will happen in Ukraine in the near future.

      • The writer seems knowledgeable. So I was interested to see his claim about a Tymo/Boyko connection, which would be disastrous if true.
        Her wiki entry says she wants to join the EU, but as far as I can see, her personal website is down.
        Although we know the EU is shit, it might actually be good for Ukraine because of the huge money that would come its way. Poland was as fucked up as Ukraine in 1990, but now it has several times the the economy size of Ukraine.
        Poor countries always do well in the EU, plus Ukraine would be a welcome (and increasingly rare) dissenter from the EU’s sickening pro-putlerism.

        • Poland was before Corona. Also Ukraine would rather end up like Romania, concerning the level of corruption. Ukraine would be well advised to stay out of the EU. They are associated, which is good. Now they should focus on Nato membership to become their own masters again.

        • Too many pro Russian countries in the EU. They would block Ukraine from entering as soon as Putin snapped his fingers.

          • They certainly are doing it now. Only Pribaltika and Poland support Ukraine now that Britain has gone.
            Nevertheless the EU is a nice little earner for a poor country and they should take it if it comes their way, which it probably won’t.
            I am in a minority of one when I say this, but I will repeat it anyway:
            The greatest military and intelligence sharing alliance in history is the Five Eyes. It should now be expanded into a trade/military/intel bloc with the members leaving Nato. Unbeatable!
            Ukraine, Georgia, Japan, S Korea should also be invited to join. I would love to have had India, but the slippery idiots just will not stop licking putler’s jackboots. If any other countries want to join they will have to guarantee that they will fight putlerstan if needed.

            • Not sure I would trust Ukraine intelligence, A country that allows it’s intelligence service to remove part of it’s air defense system, leaving Ukraine defenceless for a day, is not to be trusted. As the persecution of Poroshenko shows, it’s crawling with Russian vermin too.

              • Yes, such an offer would be conditional on a return of Poro to power. Roll on that day!

  4. Hmmm. When Bohdan claimed Zelensky is from outside the system, he lost me. Nobody in UA politics so far was from outside the system. Yet Yulia, Yatzy and Petro were no slaves of the (oligarch-mafia) system, other than Zelensky, who is FULLY controlled by the oligarch mafia. Therefore Ze won’t listen. He gets his orders from the mafia, and will implement them. Period.

    • It seems pretty clear to me that Zelensky is overwhelmed by his responsibilities and underestimated the job description. Then he delegated power to promising oligarchs and ruSSo-criminals. Ukrainians don’t want a tsar but it appears that’s what they got.

      • The word clueless springs to mind. What better than have an idiot who can be manipulated by the Oligarchs as President?

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