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21 Jul, 2023 09:57

Ukrainian minister axed after comedy show scandal

Aleksandr Tkachenko has tendered his resignation amid claims he invested $900,000 of public money in an oligarch’s vanity project
Ukrainian minister axed after comedy show scandal

Ukrainian Culture Minister Aleksandr Tkachenko has resigned following public outrage over his department’s financial support for a comedy TV series, which critics have branded a waste of taxpayers’ money.

He announced on Friday that he had sent a resignation letter to Prime Minister Denis Shmygal. Tkachenko claimed to have done so before learning that President Vladimir Zelensky wanted him fired. The Ukrainian leader explained his reasons for sacking the minister in a video address on Thursday, alluding to his department’s unreasonable use of public funds.

“Museums, cultural centers, symbols and TV series are all important, but now we have other priorities,” the president said, instructing the government to find outside funding for such projects.

Tkachenko cited “a wave of confusion about the importance of culture in wartime” as the cause of his dismissal. He declared that “culture is a shield for our identity and our borders.”

He was apparently referring to the public outrage this week, which was triggered by news that his ministry had agreed to invest some $900,000 in a comedy show. Details about the production were revealed in a transparency disclosure published online.

The end product would tell the story of a pair of “talented IT guys” who end up in a small Ukrainian village named Ingulets, which is led by “farmer Aleksey Parovoz, nicknamed Batya [‘Pops’ in Ukrainian],” according to the description.

Ukrainian media and public figures suggested the character was obviously based on agriculture tycoon Aleksandr Povoroznyuk, who is the president and key sponsor of the Ingulets football club. Critics claimed that Povoroznyuk had political ambitions and that the series was meant to boost his popularity.

If such a plan succeeded, it would be similar to how Zelensky himself entered national politics on the back of a successful TV series. He played a school teacher who accidentally became the Ukrainian president. Zelensky’s political party, Servant of the People, is named after the comedy series.

Povoroznyuk distanced himself from the program, claiming that he would rather spend the money on the Ukrainian military. The owner of the production firm that was awarded the government contract, TV host Yury Gorbunov, argued that $900,000 was not much for the project and that a country at war still needed comedy to boost morale.