KYIV — Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump, as Democrat opponents claim he pressured Kyiv to investigate the son of his political rival Joe Biden. The web of allegations and counter-claims is rooted in Ukraine’s efforts to clamp down on corruption following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
Many Ukrainians now fear their country could suffer from the fierce political battles in Washington.
In the past six years, Ukraine has weathered revolution and war and remains beset by economic and existential threats. So it is with shock and bewilderment that the country finds itself at the center of an American presidential showdown.
“Truth be told, I think this problem is all between the Republicans and the Democrats. These are not our problems,” Kyiv resident Irina told VOA.
“I think that Ukrainian people know for sure that all this is an American circus, a theater, and we shouldn’t pay any attention,” said Volodymyr Kostik, who was born in Ukraine but was visiting Kyiv from his home in Florida.
President Trump alleges that Joe Biden forced the resignation of the then-Ukrainian chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to protect Biden's family, a charge the former Democratic vice president denies.
Shokin had previously been investigating alleged corruption at the energy firm Burisma, where Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board of directors. Shokin’s deputy at the time, David Sakvarelidze, told VOA his boss was ousted because he was ineffective.
“I’m sure that the United States’ and the international community’s demand to dismiss Shokin was an outcome and a logical result of his corruptness and of his, let’s say, incompatibility with the post-Maidan [post-revolution] era in Ukraine. Biden’s reaction was an outcome and a result of the reports that the United States embassy was sending to Washington, D.C. and it was once again connected to unwillingness to fight corruption,” Sakvarelidze said.
Clear evidence of that corruption, say critics, is rooted in the events of early 2014 when government security forces launched a brutal crackdown on protesters in Independence Square, killing more than 100 people. Not a single official has been prosecuted over the deaths and for many Ukrainians, that is symbolic of the corruption at the highest level of the prosecution system.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected in April on a pledge to prosecute corrupt officials. He must avoid being sucked into an American crisis, argues former lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko, who served on the parliament’s anti-corruption committee.
“The risk is to be involved in the conflict on the side of Republicans or Democrats. The only way to lower damage is to stay neutral, stay balanced, and stay as far as possible from this contact line of the conflict, and to stay (keep) maneuvering between these requests from both sides,” Leshchenko said.
Ukraine’s biggest fear is becoming the collateral damage of an American political war, says Brian Bonner, editor of the Kyiv Post newspaper and a long-time Ukraine observer.
“People here did think and have believed that the United States was a steadfast ally. And then when it appears that Trump is just interested in shaking down the Ukrainian president to dig into Biden, then it became just more sleazy politics as usual.”
President Trump rejects claims that he pressured Ukraine into investigating Biden. The timing of the diplomatic crisis could hardly be worse, as Ukraine tries to negotiate with Russia over ending the war in the eastern Donbas region. Many Ukrainians feel let down, says analyst Ilyia Kusa of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future.
“They were even saying that, ‘The U.S. is not interested in Donbas, they’re not interested in Crimea, they’re not interested in our struggle against Russia. He (President Trump) only tries to benefit himself and to treat Ukraine only as a mere source of some kind of dirty materials against his political opponent.”
The political warfare in the United States has provoked fascination - but also fear over the commitment of Ukraine’s key Western ally, even as its soldiers continue to fight and die on the frontlines of its conflict with Russia.