Americans who tune in this week to the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry will be treated to something unusual in U.S. media: an in-depth discussion of Ukrainian politics.
Here’s a guide on some of the big names to watch for as Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled earlier this year, testifies on Friday.
Presidential adviser Andriy Yermak
Yermak is top aide to Zelensky. He has been described in local media as a friend of the Ukrainian president who previously worked as a lawyer in the entertainment world. He appears to have become a key point of contact for U.S. figures interested in Ukraine, communicating with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and Kurt Volker, who was then the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last month, Yermak said his job was to help U.S. officials understand Ukraine. “The fact is that some American politicians were not informed in the right degree about what is going on here,” Yermak told the newspaper. “Clearly, over the years, President Trump had developed a negative impression of Ukraine, which was not what we wanted.”
William B. Taylor Jr., acting ambassador to Ukraine, said in his opening statement at the House impeachment hearings on Wednesday that a member of his staff overheard Trump ask Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland in a phone call about the status of “the investigations” after Sondland met with Yermak in Kyiv.
Taylor said one of his aides told him that Sondland called Trump from a Kyiv restaurant on July 26 to update him on meetings he was having in the city. Sondland said the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, according to Taylor.
Former prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko
Lutsenko was a top prosecutor in Ukraine between May 2016 and August 2019. Before that had a complicated work history, serving as minister of internal affairs but also serving more than two years in prison for embezzlement and abuse of office in a case decried by the opposition as politically motivated.
Lutsenko met at least three times with Giuliani, who appeared to be serving as an envoy for the president. Giuliani has said he was pushing Ukraine to investigate the actions of Hunter Biden, son of former vice president Joe Biden, in the country.
While in office, Lutsenko had cast doubt on Hunter Biden’s conduct in Ukraine. However, in an interview with The Washington Post in September, Lutsenko said the younger Biden “did not violate anything.”
Former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin
Shokin, 67, is another former top Ukrainian prosecutor who is at the heart of the allegations against the Bidens. Shokin was appointed in 2015 and had pledged to fight corruption, taking particular aim at a natural gas company called Burisma Holdings. Hunter Biden was appointed to Burisma’s board in 2014.
But Shokin was soon scorned by anti-corruption campaigners and the general public, who said he had fallen far short on his promises. In September 2015, Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time, gave a speech in which he criticized Shokin on his failures on the corruption issue.
Shokin was eventually forced out of office in 2016 after the Obama administration threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees. “I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair,” Trump told Zelensky in a July 25 call, according to a rough transcript.
Businessman Mykola Zlochevsky
Zlochevsky, a former minister of ecology and natural resources, is the co-founder and principal owner of Burisma. The 53-year-old is one of the richest men in Ukraine, with a net worth estimated at $535 million in 2017.
Zlochevsky has been accused of corruption and has been the subject of a number of investigations into his business practices. In 2014, Britain opened a money-laundering probe into him and froze millions of dollars in his companies’ accounts. The freeze was eventually lifted — in his 2015 speech, Pyatt suggested that the prosecutor’s office, then led by Shokin, had failed to send the appropriate documents to Britain, prompting a British court to end the freeze.
Analysts have suggested that Zlochevsky sought to include Hunter Biden and other Western figures on Burisma’s board as he was not as well-connected within the Ukrainian government after the 2014 revolution ousted a number of Russian-leaning politicians.
Businessman Dmytro Firtash
Firtash is a Ukrainian businessman who was highly influential — and controversial — in the country before the 2014 revolution, after which he left Ukraine for Austria. The 54-year-old had an estimated fortune of $746 million in 2017, built up through Group DF, a company he founded that focused on the chemicals industry and gas distribution.
Firtash has been accused of ties to Russian organized crime, allegations that he denies. In March 2014, Austrian authorities arrested Firtash after a judge in Virginia issued a warrant for his arrest on bribery and other charges. Less than a month later, the Justice Department unsealed a 2013 indictment from a Chicago grand jury that included allegations of involvement of crimes including racketeering and money laundering. Firtash posted bail and has fought the extradition order; in July, a judge in Vienna suspended the order.
A business associate of Giuliani, Lev Parnas, has worked as an interpreter for Firtash, and prosecutors in Chicago suspect that there may have been a broader relationship between Firtash, Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman. The Soviet-born Parnas and Fruman were arrested last month on charges that they funneled foreign money into U.S. elections.
Businessman Igor Kolomoisky
With an estimated $1 billion net worth, the 56-year-old Kolomoisky has long been ranked as one of the wealthiest people in Ukraine, having built up a business empire after co-founding the financial group PrivatBank. But his fortunes and the allegations of political meddling surrounding him have made him a deeply divisive figure in the country.
In 2017, he went into self-imposed exile after the government accused him of embezzling billions of dollars and forcibly nationalized PrivatBank. Kolomoisky was singled out by Guiliani in a May 2019 tweet. Shortly afterward, Kolomoisky gave an interview in which he said that Parnas and Fruman had demanded that he help set up a meeting between Giuliani and Zelensky. “A big scandal may break out, and not only in Ukraine, but in the United States,” Kolomoisky said in the interview, which aired in late May.
Kolomoisky returned to Ukraine this year after Zelensky, a former business partner, won the presidential election. However, he prompted a dispute with the president’s office when he told a U.S. reporter that Ukraine needed to renew its relationship with Russia. “They’re stronger anyway. We have to improve our relations,” Kolomoisky told the New York Times.
Gas executive Andriy Kobolyev
Kobolyev, 41, is head of the Ukrainian national oil and gas company Naftogaz and previously worked as a management consultant and investment adviser. He was appointed head of Naftogaz in 2014 after the Ukrainian revolution, in part as he was not tied to the ousted government.
Many consider his tenure a success, with Kobolyev having turned the company around from losses of billions of dollars to a profit last year. But the government faced pressure this year from Parnas and Fruman to replace him; U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry also pushed Kyiv to shake up Naftogaz’s supervisory board this year.
In a recent interview with The Post, Kobolyev pointed toward a dispute with Firtash, whose companies distribute gas acquired from Naftogaz. “They take our gas without limitation,” Kobolyev said. “It is a big problem for us.”
Former presidential adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk
Oleksandr Danylyuk, 44, was a national security adviser to Zelensky from late May to Sept. 30. Before that, he worked in the private and public sector, eventually rising to become finance minister in 2016. He oversaw the nationalization of Kolomoisky’s PrivatBank before being ousted in a dispute with then-Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.
Danylyuk was chief foreign policy adviser to Zelensky during his campaign. In an interview with The Post in April, he said the novice politician would have to rely on his presidential team. Danylyuk was appointed secretary of the National Security and Defense Council the next month.
The presidential adviser was involved in several meetings with U.S. officials, including one at the White House on July 10 at which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, allegedly told Ukrainian officials that a meeting between Trump and Zelensky depended on the initiation of certain investigations. Danylyuk handed in his resignation in late September, telling the BBC’s Ukrainian service that the decision was prompted by Zelensky’s handling of the PrivatBank case.