Relations between the central government and the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, continue to deteriorate. This time, air-raid shelters have become the focus of the conflict.

Three people, including a child, died on the night of June 1 because the nearest bomb shelter was closed. During the air raid, they tried to get into the shelter but were killed by fragments of a downed ballistic missile.

The tragedy drew stark criticism. The public questioned how shelters could be closed in Kyiv after more than 15 months since the full-scale invasion – while the Russians were carrying out continual night attacks on the capital.

Instead of solving the problem, the Kyiv and central authorities appeared to be looking for culprits to absolve themselves of responsibility. Klitschko blamed President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying the people appointed by the president to positions in Kyiv were not fulfilling their duties. Whereas, Zelensky promised the mayor an inspection of all shelters and even hinted that “there could be a knockout.”

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Volodymyr Zelensky and Vitali Klitschko. Photo: UNIAN

Why the bad blood?

The conflict between the Mayor and President arose back in 2019, when Zelensky took office. The team of the President’s Office tried to remove the mayor of the capital from his position as head of the Kyiv City State Administration (KMDA).

According to Ukrainian legislation, the capital has special status. It has both a mayor and head of the KMDA, the executive body of the city council subordinated directly to the national-level branches of government. The former is elected by the people of Kyiv, the latter is appointed by the president. In 2003, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine clarified that, despite the different status of positions, they should be headed by one person – the elected mayor.

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In 2019 Zelensky’s team tried to dismiss Klitschko from the position of KMDA head, explaining that it was dismissing all heads of regional administrations. It wasn’t certain whether Klitschko would be appointed again or replaced. But due to public discontent over Zelensky’s plan, the issue was postponed.

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To resolve the issue, a new law was drafted that would clearly spell out the powers of all participants in the local government of Kyiv. The draft law is ready but has not yet been adopted.

As a result, the situation only worsened. After the full-scale attack on Feb. 24, 2022, all regional state civil administrations were replaced by military ones. The KMDA also changed its status to the Kyiv City Military Administration (KMVA). Klitschko ceased to head this body, and a military officer – currently Gen. Serhiy Popko – was appointed in his place.

Serhiy Popko. Photo by Facebook/Operational Command "North".

This decision was not contested at the time because military operations were nearing Kyiv and the Russians hoped to capture the capital.

Now, however, the capital authorities – i.e., Klitschko’s team – say that the existence of the KMVA is no longer needed, since there are no combat operations in or around the city.

Both sides benefit from status quo

The creation of the KMDA during martial law shifted the emphasis on who is responsible for what in Kyiv.

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With regard to the closed shelter, Klitschko says that Popko, who publicly stated that he was engaged in checking bomb shelters, is to blame.

Moreover, the mayor accused the heads of the district state administrations of the city (RDA), who also have to control the situation. The heads of the RDA are appointed not by the mayor, but by the president on the proposal of the Cabinet of Ministers. Klitschko’s supporters point to the fact that the head of the Desnyansky RDA, where the tragedy occurred, is a representative of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party.

Meanwhile, Popko said that there should be collective responsibility. In other words, blame should be shared by himself, Klitschko, and the heads of the RDA. Zelensky said that “everyone will answer, the reaction will be firm... I would say this: there could be a knockout.”

Zelensky charged the Minister of Strategic Industries of Ukraine, Oleksandr Kamyshin, with checking shelters in Kyiv. Kamyshin even visited some together with Klitschko.

Oleksandr Kamyshin. Photo by Ukrzaliznytsia.

Rumors followed that Kamyshin might be appointed KMDA chief.

“Zelensky deems Kamyshin to be an effective manager. On the other hand, there has always been the view that only someone like Kamyshin could oppose Klitschko,” a source close to the president told the Kyiv Post.

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Oleksandr Kamyshin and Vitali Klitschko. Video screenshot

But no one dares to predict whether there will be such an appointment. A Servant of the People lawmaker, Roman Hryshchuk, who represents the interests of the city in the parliament, as well as Ksenia Semenova, a Servant of the People deputy in the Kyiv local council, told Kyiv Post that they were not aware of any change in the KMVA leadership. Kamyshin’s press service reported that they “do not comment on rumors.”

What happens next?

The public conflict over shelters is not the first between Klitschko and Zelensky. In the fall of last year, the mayor received complaints about the “Points of Invincibility” throughout Kyiv, where residents could warm up, charge their phones, and eat during blackouts caused by Russian missile attacks.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in December 2022, Klitschko tried to downplay the dispute, saying “now is not the time for political games.” Months later, as pressure from society and the authorities mounts, the mayor has decided to defend himself.

Who backs whom?

Currently, Klitschko receives the most support from Petro Poroshenko, the previous president of Ukraine, and his European Solidarity party. Leonid Yemets, a deputy from Poroshenko’s party in the capital, claimed that Zelensky’s team is not satisfied with Klitschko’s activity in communicating with international partners and is wary of his authority in Europe – which is why they are trying to interfere.

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“The conflict between the central government and Klitschko does not depend on Klitschko. It depends on the central government,” Yemets told Kyiv Post. “At the moment, I can say that while the local self-government wants to cooperate and be involved in the central processes, I do not get that impression from the central government.”

Deputy Semenov claimed that Klitschko is well aware of the state of shelters in the capital. After all, he and the finance department determine funding priorities and which storage facilities and such to repair. So, it is the mayor who is responsible for this issue, not Popko, she said.

“Popko is terrible, the most incompetent head of the military administration,” Semenova added, criticizing the head of the KMVA. “Apart from military matters, I don’t know what he did. This information was not reported to us. He likely had some military tasks related to the line of defense in Kyiv, placement of military facilities. Probably, he was effective in this.”

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Otherwise, Semenova noted that Popko was occasionally allowed to sign orders that Klitschko himself did not want to sign. “I think he believed in effective cooperation with the mayor, but it doesn’t work with Klitschko.” she said.

Klitschko’s supporters are also dissatisfied with Popko. But it remains to be seen whether he will be released. Kyiv Post sources do not rule out that everything could be put on hold. After the Russians blew up the Kakhovka dam, the conflict in the capital took a back seat.

Currently, Klitschko’s team has created a temporary control commission that checks how the RDA uses the budget funds of about Hr.1.2 billion ($33 million) for shelters.

Initial findings reveal that the RDA funds were spent on musical drums, as well as large quantities of hi-tech cooking appliances and vegetable cutters for the shelters.

The blame game

Blame for the waste of budget money is coming from all directions.

Lawmaker Hryshchuk admitted that the RDA, appointed by the president, should be subordinated to the capital authorities.

Zelensky’s entourage has also urged Klitschko not to engage in media attacks or gripe to foreign journalists about pressure, but to just do his job – warning that there may soon be new scandals.

“The next topic will be the disability-access issue when one of our veterans in a wheelchair crashes to death while wheeling through one of the underpasses [due to the lack of infrastructure access in Kyiv for people with disabilities]. At the same time, I talk to Klitschko about this access for the disabled at every meeting. He says that there’s no such problem,” Semenova said.

So far, both sides are trying to blame each other, although each of them has made a lot of efforts to complicate the situation in the capital.

Yet the dismissal of Klitschko will give him additional support in society, which does not suit Zelensky’s team very much.

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Comments (2)

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James
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Why create problems at this crucial times??

Natasha
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@James, Exactly. Zelensky should stop playing politics and dirty tricks

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dave
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Without going into any of the details of:
1. Who mandated the setup of the shelters?
2. Who funded the setup and operation of the shelter?
3. How much money was spent on the setup and operation of the shelters?
4. Was 100% of the money budgeted and spent on the shelters directed towards the shelters?
5. Was money diverted?
6. To whom was it diverted?

This article ends up looking like an article trying to present Klitschko as a victim. Blaming anyone and everyone other than Klitschko in order to preserve his network of patronage.

Natasha
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@dave,

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Natasha
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@dave, I don’t think so. Rather, it just shows up the dirty tactics and dodgy motivations of Zelensky in this matter - he should just be focusing on the war rather than trying to use it to outmanoeuvre a political rival. He’s long been worried about Klitschko’s popularity and capability in office. Zelensky should focus on the actual enemy, Russia!

dave
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@Natasha, I disagree with your premise. Dealing with corruption is just as important for the long-term success of Ukraine as are successes in military battles with Russia.

Russia initially attacked Ukraine because it believed that corruption was so widespread in Ukraine that it would collapse within a few days. They continue to attack because they believe that if they exert enough pressure on Ukraine, it will fail as a state and the West will stop providing support.

Strengthening the civil, economic, and governmental institutions will prove to Russia and the West that it is a strong nation that will not back down.

Natasha
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@dave, And I disagree with your bizarre assumption of the paper ‘trying to preserve his network of patronage’! You could level this generic, vague charge against any official or politician. I fully agree that it’s important to try and reduce and root out corruption, even in the midst of a war, but the idea that this should lead to making aspersions against the mayor flies in the face of numerous facts that are laid out here. Rather, the unethical political game-playing that has been engaged in by Zelensky/ his party, should not be happening, especially now.

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