KHARKIV, Ukraine — Cellphone video shared widely on social media shows a woman jumping while unwrapping a gift.

Inside the box is a red sheet of paper, which she waves towards the camera excitedly. “It’s a permit to Rynok Square for my Mercedes,” she exclaims. «The best gift.»

The gift allowed him to drive through one of the main pedestrian squares in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, a route usually reserved for emergency vehicles. And the gift came from her boyfriend, the head of the city’s traffic police, the Police Patrol of Ukraine said in a statement.

Within hours of the video being posted on Instagram over the weekend, the woman’s boyfriend had been suspended from duty, the statement said, adding that «an official investigation» had been ordered. The head of the Lviv traffic police did not respond to a request for comment.

He is now one of about a dozen officials who have resigned, been fired or been investigated this week as Ukraine’s government grapples with an old foe: corruption.

Even as he fights against the invasion of Russia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is eager to show his public, as well as the Western governments whose help his country depends on, that he also continues to wage a war on corruption in the notoriously corrupt public sector of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv this month.Presidential Office of Ukraine / DPA / AP

The scandal comes at a precarious time for Kyiv, with the United States and its allies ramping up their supplies of military and humanitarian aid as the war with Moscow nears the one-year mark. Ukraine also seeks to join the European Union and NATO and hopes that the wartime purge will help those attempts and not further efforts by the Kremlin to undermine its reputation.

“Any internal issues that interfere with the state are being fixed and will be fixed. This is fair, it is necessary for our protection and helps our rapprochement with the European institutions, ”Zelenskyy said in his evening speech on Tuesday.

Among the officials who lost their jobs on Tuesday were Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov and five regional governors. Ukraine’s Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko resigned after the country’s media reported that he went on holiday to Spain over the New Year, a move many see as decadent when many spend the winter with limited electricity due to the Russian attacks. On Monday, Zelenskyy banned civil servants from traveling abroad for any reason other than work.

Shapovalov and the ousted prosecutor did not respond to a request for comment. NBC News has not verified the reports of his trip.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Deputy Head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine resigns.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko holds up a handwritten letter the day he submitted his resignation to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a picture shared Tuesday.AFP Getty Images

Perhaps the most painful loss for Zelenskyy was the resignation of his own deputy chief of staff. Kyrylo Tymoshenko was an old friend of the president who worked with him in his pre-political career as a comedian, and his proximity to him made him one of the most powerful men in Ukraine. But he, too, was the subject of a series of embarrassing stories after he was photographed driving a new Porsche around Kyiv.

Tymoshenko denied ownership of the car. In a post on social media, he did not give a reason for his resignation, but thanked Zelenskyy «for the trust and the opportunity to do good deeds every day and every minute.»

The prosecution of corrupt officials has been led by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Office, an investigative agency established in 2015. This week, the office announced that a deputy minister for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development had been detained while allegedly receiving a bribe in cash of $400,000. . The deputy minister could not be reached for comment.

But Ukraine has a long-standing and entrenched problem with corruption, a problem Zelenskyy vowed to tackle when he ran for office as an anti-establishment upstart.

President Joe Biden grappled with the issue as vice president. In 2016, he threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee if Ukraine’s government did not remove a prosecutor the United States considered soft on corruption.

I’m leaving in six hours. If they don’t fire the prosecutor, they won’t get the money,” Biden recalled telling Ukrainian leaders, speaking during a 2018 event. The prosecutor was fired shortly thereafter.

US lawmakers hailed the latest campaign against corruption on Tuesday.

“This is a defining moment for Ukraine. This is a defining moment for all of us,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said at a press conference days after returning from Kyiv.

“We are confident that this is the first step in a long journey to change the way we do business,” Graham said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who was also on the trip, said the personnel changes were important. “It shows what President Zelenskyy has told us, that there will be zero tolerance for fraud or waste,” he said.

However, this week’s wave of layoffs appears to have been triggered by pressure from Ukraine’s own media and civil society rather than US intervention.

“The President sees and listens to society. And he responds directly to a key public demand: justice for all,” Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

There is still a long way to go. Ukraine currently ranks 132 out of 180 countries in a corruption index compiled by Transparency International, a good governance non-governmental organization.

Before entering parliament in 2019, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn was the executive director of the Transparency International Ukraine chapter.

In an interview with NBC News, Yurchyshyn said he was optimistic Ukraine could fight corruption at the same time it fights Russian forces. He pointed to what he saw as an increase in anti-corruption activity since the fall, when a new prosecutor was appointed.

“I think that after the war, we will have a better Ukraine than we had before the war,” he said.