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A number of senior Ukrainian officials resigned or were fired on January 24 as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pledged to eradicate corruption from his administration amid a high-profile graft scandal that is threatening to erode the so-far staunch Western support for the leadership in Kyiv.
The shake-ups came as Poland sent an official request to Berlin to re-export its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, two U.S. officials told Reuters on January 24 that the United States, in a reversal, appears to be dropping its opposition to sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine and an announcement could come as soon as this week. There was no immediate reaction from the Pentagon.
Berlin has received Warsaw’s request, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said in a tweet.
A German government source told Reuters that Warsaw’s request to re-export up to 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine has been received, although Germany did not immediately confirm that officially.
Germany had initially showed reluctance both to providing such tanks to Kyiv itself or allowing third countries that have Leopard tanks to send them to Ukraine.
But Berlin has come under intense pressure from Ukraine and several NATO allies to change its position and allow the export of the Leopards.
Also on January 24, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi told the European Parliament that an inspection of Ukrainian nuclear plants found no military equipment as claimed by Russia.
“The result of those inspections was negative,” he was quoted by Reuters as telling EU lawmakers.
Grossi’s comments came a day after Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) accused Ukraine of storing Western-supplied arms at nuclear facilities across the country. Grossi said this was the second time the UN nuclear agency had been able to “debunk accusations of illegal things and very dangerous things taking place in these facilities.”
WATCH: Drone footage released by the Ukrainian Army shows troops making their way across a frozen landscape, before coming under fire. Current Time reporter Andriy Kuzakov visited Ukrainian trenches at the site — coming under fire on the way.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on January 24 that he was confident the alliance will find a solution soon on the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine.
“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” Stoltenberg told reporters, after talks with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.
On January 23, the German defense group Rheinmetall said it could deliver 139 Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if required over the next several months.
The Kremlin meanwhile said that German tank deliveries to Ukraine would bring “nothing good to the future relationship” between Berlin and Moscow. “They will leave a lasting mark,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on January 24.
Early on January 24, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, announced on January 24 that he had tendered his resignation to Zelenskiy.
“I thank the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the trust and the opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute,” Tymoshenko wrote on the Telegram messaging, adding, “Thank you to the armed forces for saving and defending our country.”
Shortly after Tymoshenko’s announcement, Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who was responsible for supplying troops with food and equipment, also resigned, citing “media accusations” of corruption.
A statement on the Defense Ministry’s website said that Shapovalov’s resignation was “a worthy deed” that would help retain trust in the ministry.
Also on January 24, Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Symonenko was fired in what the Prosecutor-General’s Office said was a shake-up of senior officials.
A statement announcing his dismissal gave no reason for the decision but said it had been “according to his own wish.”
Two deputy ministers — Vyacheslav Nehoda and Ivan Lukerya — also resigned from Ukraine’s Ministry of Communities and the Development of Territories on January 24.
Nehoda and Lukerya both confirmed the moves on their Facebook pages.
The departures of the three officials came after Zelenskiy announced on January 23 in his nightly address that he would make personnel changes at senior and lower levels, following the most high-profile graft scandal engulfing Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
The corruption scandal broke on January 22, when the Defense Ministry was accused by an investigative newspaper of overpaying suppliers for troops’ food. The supplier has said a technical mistake was to blame and no extra money had been given. The ministry said the accusations were baseless.
The same day, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, Vasyl Lozynskiy, was detained on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 bribe over the importation of generators in September, an allegation he denies.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a top advisor to Zelesnkiy, said the dismissal of officials was “just the beginning.”
“Society pays a price for the war. Many people have lost their incomes, careers, their homes, but they continue to help the state and the army,” he said while adding that some officials “somehow believe that they are outside this war, that they can take advantage of the war, including for their personal purposes.”
On the battlefield, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its January 24 report that it repelled Russian attacks in 11 locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with enemy fire concentrated mainly in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka directions, where heavy fighting has been under way for months.
The head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said three people were killed and three were wounded by Russian shelling.
“On January 23, the Russians killed three residents of the Donetsk region: in Novopokrovskiy, Paraskoviyivka, and Chasovoy Yar,” Kyrylenko said.
Russian forces also continued shelling Ukrainian positions in Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, and Lyman, the General Staff said.
Front lines have been largely unchanged for two months despite heavy losses on both sides and incessant Russian bombardments.
On the diplomatic front, Zelenskiy met on January 24 with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and discussed the possibility of Finland sending advanced Leopard 2 main battle tanks to his country, according to dpa.
Zelensky was quoted as saying the two discussed “creating a separate platform to strengthen Ukraine with armored vehicles, including tanks.”
During his trip, Niinisto visited the sites of Russian attacks on civilians in the suburbs of Borodyanka and Bucha and said that “the Russian atrocities” committed there “must not go unpunished.”