Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky abruptly dismissed two of the country’s top law enforcement officials last week, accusing both of treason, and on the 150th day of the war, he said the conflict “did not break Ukraine.”
“The war did not break Ukraine and will not break it, did not stop life in our country and will not stop it. And it will definitely not make us hostages of the terror that the invaders brought to our beautiful, peaceful and strong state,” said Zelensky.
During his daily video address, the Ukrainian President said both officials led spy-riddled agencies.
While he did not personally identify them, Zelensky disclosed that further investigation found several more employees within the officials’ departments who were allegedly colluding with Russia.
Later that day, the president’s office confirmed that these two officials were prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova and state secret service (SBU) director Ivan Bakanov, a childhood friend and former close adviser of Zelensky.
Ukraine had registered 651 criminal proceedings against employees across several high-level offices for allegedly collaborating with Russians or working against the nation’s goals, Zelensky said in his nightly address shortly after announcing the dismissals.
“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state and the connections detected between the employees of the security forces of Ukraine and the special services of Russia pose very serious questions to the relevant leadership,” Zelensky said.
Venediktova is an academic, and lawyer who was the prosecutor general since March 2020, the first woman to hold the office. As an expert on judicial reform, Venediktova became an adviser to Zelensky during his 2019 campaign for President of Ukraine.
He appointed her as acting director of the State Bureau of Investigations on December 27, 2019 and on March 17, 2020, Venediktova was appointed as prosecutor general.
She was dismissed on July 19, 2022, by Zelenskyy, who said personnel within her agency were collaborating with occupying Russian forces.
During the Russian invasion, Venediktova played a major role in coordinating prosecutions for war crimes.
In late March 2022, she announced the creation of an international legal task force that would support Ukrainian prosecutors in coordinating legal cases in several jurisdictions for war crimes related to the invasion.
Venediktova said that Ukrainian prosecutors had identified “several hundred suspects” and collected 2500 “possible war crimes cases,” including the Mariupol theatre airstrike.
Bakanov is a close childhood friend of Zelensky who served as deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine before he was named to lead the agency in August 2019.
Under Bakanov’s leadership, the agency apprehended Islamic State extremist group leader Al-Bara Shishani, who had been hiding in Ukraine, and exposed dozens of corruption schemes.
Bakanov was suspended under Article 47 of the Disciplinary Statute of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which states: “Non-performance (improper performance) of official duties, which caused human casualties or other serious consequences or created a threat of such consequences, is the basis for the removal of such a serviceman from the performance of official duties.”
He was officially removed from his post two days later, after a vote in Ukraine’s parliament that was put forward by Zelensky.