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21 Jan, 2024 20:36

Zelensky making Ukraine 'authoritarian' – Kiev mayor

Modern Ukraine leaves “little space” for the president's critics, Vitaly Klitschko has claimed
Zelensky making Ukraine 'authoritarian' – Kiev mayor

Ukraine is increasingly heading towards authoritarian rule under President Vladimir Zelensky and his administration, the Mayor of Kiev Vitaly Klitschko told Canada’s Globe and Mail in an interview published on Friday. The government has largely consolidated its control over the national media, leaving almost no space for alternative viewpoints, and has started to replace elected local officials, he claimed. 

Ukraine’s major TV broadcasters have been airing a single show known as the United News Telemarathon almost since the start of the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev in February 2022. The program mostly consists of live news broadcasts, interviews, and talk shows. According to Klitschko, it has allowed the government to establish a “monopoly on information.” The mayor argued that the content of the show is “controlled” by the state and that any dissenting or critical voices are simply not allowed.

“Objective, true information is very important to society, and a monopoly on information, I guess, is not good,” he told the Globe and Mail. He also said that a significant part of Ukrainian society “doesn’t understand exactly what happens on the front lines” since the show highlights Ukrainian military successes while downplaying the setbacks.

“We are worried that some government institutions were involved in that repression of free media,” Klitschko explained. He accused Zelensky of not paying attention to the issue of the persecution of journalists in Ukraine.

The list of Klitschko’s concerns does not end with the media, as, according to him, the government has also used martial law introduced to replace more than 200 mayors and local council heads with military administrators.

“The mayors and the heads of community are elected by citizens, and they are instead being replaced by people who are put in from the top. So that’s why I worry,” the former world boxing champion-turned-politician said.

“The movement, what we see right now, I can’t say it’s democracy. It smells of … of authoritarianism,” Klitschko said, adding that “some people” within the government “wish everything to be centralized” and seek to consolidate power in their hands. He didn't name anyone specifically and also stated that he “cannot say their names.” 

Klitschko, a long-time national hero due to his high-profile boxing career, took up his position shortly after the 2014 Maidan coup and is one of the few prominent politicians from the time of Zelensky’s predecessor, Pyotr Poroshenko, who has retained a senior post. 

Over the past months, relations between the capital’s mayor and the central government have been marred by multiple public spats. In June, Klitschko was reprimanded for the state of the city’s bomb shelters. In November, he was one of the first major Ukrainian public figures to admit the failure of the much-hyped summer counteroffensive. He also contradicted the stance taken by Zelensky at that time. 

In early December 2023, Klitschko already warned that Zelensky had plunged the nation into authoritarianism and made it dependent on the “mood” of a single person – himself.