The Scandal Surrounding Volodymyr Zelensky

Although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been caught up in a few scandals throughout his career, there is one in particular that has citizens worried. It seems that Zelensky wasn't always a politician. He was also a lawyer, comedian, and actor before he entered political life. In the years leading up to his presidency, he produced and acted in the 2015 TV series "Servant of the People," according to BBC. The political satire was a huge hit, making Zelensky a household name.

He then ran for the actual office of President of Ukraine and won in 2019. Zelensky ran as an independent through the Servant of the People Party, which became registered as its own political party during the election (via Britannica). His resonant message to voters was that after decades of widespread government corruption, he would act only in good faith. But as The New York Times reports, some constituents fear that Ihor Kolomoisky, the co-owner of the TV station that aired "Servant of the People," could be influencing Ukraine's president. 

Multi-billion dollar scandal

Kolomoisky (above) is a billionaire, and per BBC, is one of the country's most well-known oligarchs. He was involved in a 2016 scandal with Privatbank. When Kolomoisky was the co-owner of the bank, about $4.5 billion went missing. He denied any wrongdoing and declared that he would seek damages from the government. Regardless, he and his family went into a self-imposed exile in 2017 after the scandal.

Since the oligarch returned to public life in 2019, some Ukrainians worry that Kolomoisky will have influence over Zelensky. The billionaire funded the president's campaign, although Zelensky tried to distance himself from the oligarch by avoiding traditional TV campaign ads. Instead, he favored short videos on social media platforms (via Britannica).

Before the winner of Ukraine's presidential election was even announced officially, another of Kolomoisky's TV stations, 1+1, declared that Zelensky was the winner. He did win, but the timing of Komoisky's return from exile began to raise suspicions that he was trying to influence the new president.

'Equal in front of the law'

Oligarchs have a long history of controlling Ukrainian politics, dating back to at least 1991. As Britannica reports, Kolomoisky promised he would not give orders to the President behind closed doors. Zelensky echoed this anti-corruption stance, saying he would not provide special favors to anyone, including Kolomoisky.

But if Kolomoisky did attempt to reverse the privatization of his one-time bank, he would stand to gain back billions of dollars. The former prime minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, sounded the alarm, writing in a 2019 tweet, "If he's not careful this could be the undoing of Zelensky. Selective re-oligarchisation would be a disaster for Ukraine" (via The New York Times). ​​When commenting on the matter in 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky said, "We are all equal in front of the law, both an ordinary person and an oligarch."

Privatbank remains nationalized today. In recent news about the oligarch, Kolomoisky was banned from entering the United States in 2021 due to the misuse of his office, according to the U.S. Department of State. The document also noted that there was "concern about Kolomoyskyy's current and ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine's democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to its future."