PARSIPPANY, N.J. – U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is set to depart in May, in accordance with a “three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson stated to RFE/RL on May 6. Ambassador Yovanovitch was scheduled to vacate the post in July.
“Her confirmed departure date in May aligned with the presidential transition in Ukraine,” which elected a new president in April, the spokesperson said, adding, “The team at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, and in Washington, continues to work closely with the Ukrainian government and civil society to strengthen our partnership.”
Interfax reported on May 7 that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine had confirmed that the U.S. ambassador would be leaving her post in May. RFE/RL reported that Embassy staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Ambassador Yovanovitch’s last day would be May 20.
U.S. diplomats said they highly valued Ms. Yovanovitch’s dedication to strengthening ties between Ukraine and the U.S., and said they would continue to work with Ukraine on necessary reforms for providing Ukraine’s long-term success.
There is no word yet on candidates to succeed Ms. Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. However, the chargé d’affaires will serve as interim ambassador until a new one is nominated and confirmed.
Rep. Eliot l. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House majority leader, issued a statement on May 7 in response to the news of Ambassador Yovanovitch’s departure from her post, alleging a “political hit job.”
“Ambassador Yovanovitch is a dedicated public servant and a diplomat of the highest caliber who has represented the United States under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The White House’s outrageous decision to recall her is a political hit job and the latest in this administration’s campaign against career State Department personnel. It’s clear that this decision was politically motivated, as allies of President Trump had joined foreign actors in lobbying for the Ambassador’s dismissal,” the Congressmen wrote.
“By recalling Ambassador Yovanovitch just mere months before her tenure in Ukraine was set to end, the administration is harming American interests and undermining American diplomacy. We call on the administration to reverse this decision immediately. In this period of transition, Ukraine needs gifted professionals like Ambassador Yovanovitch more than ever,” they said.
Reps. Hoyer and Engel sent private letters in April to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo to highlight Ambassador Yovanovitch’s tireless advocacy for governance, economic and anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, which led to personal attacks against her from certain political actors within Ukraine and from political allies of President Trump, including a tweet by Donald Trump Jr.
They urged Secretary Pompeo to issue a public statement of support for Ambassador Yovanovitch.
The U.S. State Department has denied an explosive claim by Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko that Ambassador Yovanovitch gave him “a list of people whom we should not prosecute” during their first in-person meeting.
“The allegations by the Ukrainian prosecutor general are not true and intended to tarnish the reputation of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” a State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL on March 21. “Such attacks redouble our resolve to help Ukraine win the struggle against corruption,” the spokesperson added.
“The statement of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general does not correspond to reality and is meant to weaken the reputation of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” the State Department said.
Mr. Lutsenko, who was appointed in 2016 despite having no law degree, forced the Verkhovna Rada to amend legislation before approving his nomination as prosecutor general. He has faced repeated calls from critics for his dismissal, and even announced his resignation as recently as November 2018.
Ambassador Yovanovitch on March 31 called on Kyiv to fire Nazar Kholodnytskyy, the country’s special anti-corruption prosecutor, and the statement made headlines not only for its timing before the presidential elections (and a day prior to the arrival of U.S. Undersecretary of State David Hale, who was expected to discuss Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts), but also for its bluntness.
The ambassador explained that the replacement of Mr. Kholodnytskyy, who had been accused of assisting officials suspected of corruption to avoid prosecution, would ensure the integrity of the anti-corruption institutions.