Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil it has sown, Ukraine has replaced its ministers of health and finance.
On March 30, during an emergency session of parliament, lawmakers voted to appoint Maksym Stepanov, a former governor of Odesa Oblast, as health minister and Serhiy Marchenko, a former deputy finance minister, to lead the Ministry of Finance.
Their appointments were not without drama.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers voted to fire their predecessors, Health Minister Ilya Yemets and Finance Minister Ihor Umansky, who had assumed office in a government shakeup less than a month earlier on March 4. However, the parliament initially failed to muster the votes needed to then fill those newly vacant posts. That risked leaving two critical offices unoccupied during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
However, during a second vote later in the day, 246 lawmakers supported Stepanov’s candidacy for health minister and 256 voted for Marchenko as finance minister. That gave them more than the 226 votes needed to be appointed.
Parliament was also supposed to vote on appointing Olga Buslavets to the vacant energy minister post. However, President Volodymyr Zelensky recalled her candidacy shortly before the vote.
Both of the ministers sacked on March 30 were highly controversial. They entered office on March 4, when Denys Shymgal replaced Oleksiy Honcharuk as prime minister.
Umansky’s appointment faced criticism for his unclear position on Ukraine’s cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ukraine is currently trying to secure a $5.5 billion loan from the international lender.
He also had a tained reputation dating back to his work with President Viktor Yushchenko’s administration in 2008-2009, where he reportedly helped kill cooperation with the IMF through his support for a state budget with large deficits.
Yemets also faced criticism immediately after his appointment. It is his second time as health minister. In 2010-2011, he held the position for six months in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, but was ousted by then-President Viktor Yanukovych for ineffectiveness. Yanukovych himself would later be ousted in the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.
During his even briefer second stint as minister, Yemets attracted criticism for his disrespectful comments about the elderly.
In a March 22 TV interview, he said that the government shouldn’t spend money on trying to save people over 65 from the COVID-19 pandemic, calling retirees “corpses.” The interview came 10 days after a meeting of the parliamentary committee on healthcare where he said that the novel coronavirus would “kill all the retirees.”
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