KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. But here at the middle of the storm, there’s scarcely any knowledge of what is unfolding in Washington.
Ukrainian leaders have done their best to stay out of it, seeing only peril in commenting for fear Democrats or Republicans could use them as fuel in their partisan brawl. Local media is filled with domestic intrigue about leaked corruption-related recordings, uncertain prospects of peace in eastern Ukraine, and questions about where Ukraine’s comedian-turned-president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is taking the nation. And in the capital Kyiv, ordinary citizens are far more focused on their own pocketbook concerns.
In the United States, “it seems there is no interesting topic other than Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told The Washington Post on Tuesday at the end of a news conference. “Ukraine was always proud of support from both sides in Congress, and we would like to preserve that support. We need to solve the conflict in the east, and we don’t need to be involved in a conflict on the other side of the world.”
Despite a day of dramatic testimony in Washington in which U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland declared flatly that Trump demanded that Zelensky investigate his political opponents in exchange for a sought-after White House meeting, and said that he likely told Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass,” there was no mention of it Thursday in a daily roundup of the “main news” from prominent media outlet Ukrainska Pravda. Nor have the hearings been featured prominently in television coverage.
Thursday’s coverage was instead focused on the return of Ukrainian naval vessels that had been captured by Russia, a lawmaker’s past conviction on rape charges and the death of a war veteran following a beating. Thursday is also the sixth anniversary of the kickoff of the Maidan protests that eventually ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych and prompted the Kremlin to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and foment a conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Protesters plan to mount a rally Thursday evening to press Zelensky to hold firm against Russia in his effort to bring peace to eastern Ukraine — the issue that is probably the biggest and most divisive in the country right now.
“We have our own country. We have our independence, we have our problems and questions. That’s it,” Zelensky told a CNN crew this week that caught him at the end of a news conference, before he was hustled away surrounded by aides. He declared that “everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma,” the gas company on whose board former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter served for five years.
On the streets of Kyiv, few people said they were following the inquiry on a frigid, 32-degree day.
“I’m more interested in what’s happening inside the country. I’m not paying attention to what’s happening in the U.S.,” said Misha Sizov, 26, an I.T. worker grabbing a quick smoke in a courtyard with a colleague outside his office. “What’s more important is what’s happening inside the government right now, which has a direct effect.”
At a coffee stand in a residential area, another person said that Ukraine’s economic problems were a bigger concern.
“I was in the countryside recently. In one village, there used to be 100 cows. Now there are three. I couldn’t care less about your impeachment,” said Serhiy, 34, who refused to give his family name because he didn’t want his employer wrapped up in the impeachment proceedings either.
Several said that they were surprised at the degree to which their leaders appeared dependent on the United States.
“What I learned is that for the last five years, we thought we were an independent country. It turns out that we’re completely under the control of America,” said Gleb, 52, a “private businessman” who refused to give his last name, walking with his daughter and two-year-old grandson in a park.
A few Ukrainian politicians have seized on the moment to try to boost their profile. On Wednesday, two lawmakers announced they would try to launch a special parliamentary commission to look into accusations of money laundering and embezzlement involving top Ukrainian officials and the energy company Burisma. The effort follows on a separate inquiry announced in September by rival lawmakers.
Neither of the efforts has Zelensky’s endorsement.
The Washington Post’s Natalie Gryvnyak contributed to this report.