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Zelenskyy’s misguided response to Kyiv bomb shelter tragedy

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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko hides in a shelter with local residents during an air raid on June 1, 2023
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko hides in a shelter with local residents during an air raid on June 1, 2023

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded shortly before Klitschko’s statement, alluding to his boxing past: “As if enemies in Russia aren’t enough, you see, you start looking for internal enemies…; let me put it this way: there may be a knockout.”

Vitaly Sych, editor-in-chief of NV Media, and investment banker Serhiy Fursa discussed the political fallout from the incident on NV Radio.

Fursa: In Kyiv, people died because they did not get to the shelter in time because the shelter was locked. And this caused a huge political scandal. Unfortunately, a political one.

And this scandal, in my opinion, does not look like a very pretty story (which looks like) an attack on the mayor. We will now talk about the degree of his responsibility. He is definitely responsible. But this tragedy happened because of a combination of factors.

The first factor is the Russian attack. The Russians are to blame for this. Then there is the guard who was asleep. Klitschko shares some blame for perhaps not doing enough to prevent such tragedies. But many others in both the presidential administration and local governance also bear responsibility.

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Sych: Let’s try to figure out what the responsibility of the mayor or Kyiv officials might be.

The fact is that some guard – whether he was drunk or not – did not let people into the shelter. It was locked. And they died. It’s undeniable that tragedies can occur when a city endures constant attacks. But if residents consistently complained about inaccessible shelters beforehand, then authorities share responsibility for failing to address those complaints swiftly and adequately, in my opinion.

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Fursa: Again, we need to understand whether this is the responsibility of the district authorities.

Sych: Where does the responsibility lie? Who knew about this? Did Klitschko and his team know about (this problem)? Was the district head aware of it? We need to find out.

Fursa: There is also a big problem with the closed-open nature of these missile shelters, if you can call it that. Because very often the shelters are closed because the locals demand that they be closed. And there is no easy solution.

Sych: I’ve heard reports that in (Kyiv’s) Obolon district as well, some “high-end” residential buildings are not granting strangers access to their shelters. To my knowledge, it is illegal to deny people access to bomb shelters. Even if you consider your building elite and separate from others, it is against the law. Police should be called to resolve the issue.  But when attacks give you only 10-15 minutes to reach a shelter, there is no time to call the police and resolve (the problem).

Fursa: For example, there is a notion that shelters should always be open. But residents come and say: “Homeless people start to live there. We don’t want it to become a place like that, a center for the homeless.” And this is also a challenge where there is no simple solution, really. With these bomb shelters, there is no simple solution physically.

Sych: I agree. If the homeless use it to live in, it’s one story. They can be kicked out in the morning or (some other solution can be found). But if you just don’t let people from other buildings or the neighboring street in because they don’t live in your building, and you think you have the right to be here, but they don’t, that’s another story. It’s very cynical.

Fursa: You’re right, one way or another, this exposes a complex set of issues with no easy solutions or single party to blame.

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But we saw a major PR assault in the aftermath. Unfortunately, this tragedy was used for political gain, with an attack against Klitschko. You and I actually have a lot of questions for Klitschko as do Kyiv residents, mainly about the construction and the way the city is developing.

Sych: By the way, you know, we will be able to ask all these questions because on June 8 we will have an important event, with a lot of discussion panels. We will have Mayor Klitschko on one of the panels, and we will ask him these questions.

Fursa: Yes. We have questions about the general plan, about construction, and about what is being done with abandoned buildings. There are many, many questions for the mayor.

But these are questions for Kyiv residents to pose. And accountability lies within political processes – through elections. That is why I am worried about the reference to a so-called “knockout” from the president. It hints he could be removed by some political maneuver. And this seems entirely inappropriate to me.

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Sych: It looks as if they were waiting for this occasion, as if it were premeditated.

There have been rumors of political rivalry between the President’s Office and the General Staff, as well as between the President’s Office and Klitschko, who is a fairly popular figure.

In my view, now is not the time for such politically motivated attacks – during a war.

Fursa: Indeed. It was emphasized (by Ukraine’s political leadership) that “we are pausing political processes during the war while we focus on the conflict.”

Yet in any country, when a tragedy occurs, some political actors will try to exploit it against opponents, unfortunately. This is at times the cynical nature of politics. And it happens regularly. But we have said we are removing politics, that we are exclusively focused on the war effort now.

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So when politics reemerges suddenly, with talk of potentially removing the mayor and installing a preferred replacement – as former (Fugitive) President (Viktor) Yanukovych once did, I immediately strongly disapprove. This seems a step back from democracy.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine