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Corruption Challenges In Ukraine: Eroding Trust And Straining International Relations

In contrast to the lingering international image of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as an unshakable leader, recent public opinion polls conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) reveal a disheartening reality. With a striking decline in trust for the President as well as the central governing institutions recorded from May 2022 to October 2023, Ukrainians might be cutting through the compelling narrative of authorities and the mismatch in their actions.

According to a survey conducted in the fall of 2023, trust in the President has dropped from 91% in May 2022 to 76% in October 2023, while trust in the government has plummeted from 74% to 39%. The parliament has also witnessed a substantial decrease in public trust, falling from 58% to a mere 21%.

Notably, amid these concerning trends in political leadership, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and volunteers have managed to retain a strong foothold of trust among the population. Currently, 94% of Ukrainians express their trust in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, despite a slight dip from 98% in May 2022. The trust in volunteers remains steady at 87%, mirroring the figures recorded in May 2022.

In response to the observed pattern, Anton Grushetsky, Deputy Director of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, supplemented the current state of public sentiment in Ukraine with his interpretation:

"While Ukrainians have become more critical in their views compared to the early stages of the invasion, it is important to note that unity persists in their perceptions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, volunteers, and there remains a predominantly favorable attitude towards the President. [...] The level of trust in institutions shows that, at present, citizens' criticism is primarily focused on the Government and the Parliament, with less scrutiny directed towards the President. Additionally, it's important to highlight that this criticism is not translating into a demand for new elections. On the contrary, the majority Ukrainians believe that elections are not a current priority, with the focus instead on achieving victory [in the war].”

However, this disconcerting trend is not unique to Ukrainians alone, as even their international supporters exhibit dwindling support. The issue of the Federal budget in the US, a primary means of support for Ukraine in the ongoing war, has come under strain, particularly since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. During his last meeting at the Old Senate Chamber on September 21, 2023, President Zelensky revealed the increasingly unwelcoming atmosphere, even from the Democrats who had previously given him standing ovations during his last visit to Washington at the end of 2022. In the Time interview, he recounts, "They asked me straight up: If we don't provide you with aid, what happens? What happens is we will lose." 

Shortly after the President's departure, Reuters conducted a survey that revealed a significant drop in support, with only 41% of Americans advocating for Congress to provide more weapons to Kyiv, down from 65% in June when Ukraine initiated a major counteroffensive. Amid other reasons and challenges, the scourge of corruption protrudes as a central factor driving both the plummeting trust in the Ukrainian government among its citizens and straining relations of Zelensky with international allies. In response to a set of anti-corruption reforms mandated for Ukraine by the US, the President took seemingly drastic measures, including the dismissal of Oleksiy Reznikov, the Minister of Defense, in September this year, followed by strict instructions to his stuff to not even entertain the idea of self-enrichment. 

Naturally, these actions were anticipated to resonate within the ranks of government officials, instilling a sense of accountability and integrity. However, when a Time journalist broached the subject with a top presidential adviser in early October, the response was rather unexpected. Requesting the journalist to turn off the audio recorder for a more candid conversation, the adviser bluntly remarked, "Simon, you're mistaken. People are stealing like there's no tomorrow." 

Internationally, the diminishing support from allies, particularly the United States, not only raises concerns about Ukraine's ability to sustain its defense efforts, but also highlights the urgency of addressing corruption comprehensively to maintain international backing. At the same time, the declining trust in President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government signals a growing critical perspective among the populace, potentially pressuring the government to address its citizens' concerns and expectations. With multiple internal and external challenges intertwined, only one premise remains clear: the country's leadership, as well as its future trajectory on the global political stage, has never been so overtly challenged since the breakout of the war.

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