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Opinion | Rachelle G. Cohen

A quiet diplomatic hero ousted for doing her job

Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, entered the Capitol earlier this month.Damon Winter/New York Times

Marie Yovanovitch is a hero — a quiet hero whose name most people would never know had she not gotten in the way of Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump, and their plans to subvert a new Ukrainian administration into doing the political bidding of a corrupt White House.

No, until that moment, Yovanovitch was just another career diplomat, proudly serving the country she loves.

She already had a difficult job in a problematic nation when she arrived in Kyiv in August 2016. Russia had by then annexed Crimea and posed a continuing danger as it eyed Eastern Ukraine. Petro Poroshenko, the “chocolate king” who became president following the Revolution of Dignity, was proving to be a disappointment — either incapable of or unwilling to fight the rampant corruption that was part of Ukraine’s history since as long as anyone can remember.


Memories of his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia during the 2014 people’s revolt, and of the nearly 100 people killed in the Maidan square that year were still raw. So too the obscene display of his amassed wealth, the acres of land, the “palace,” the private zoo, and yes, the solid gold “bread” sculpture that became a symbol of all that had gone wrong.

So, welcome to Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch and good luck with all that.

“We have long understood that strong anti-corruption efforts must form an essential part of our policy in Ukraine; now there was a window of opportunity to do just that,” Yovanovitch told members of the House Intelligence Committee last Friday in her prepared remarks.

And anti-corruption efforts “serve Ukraine’s interests,” but “they serve ours as well.”

“Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while an honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a US-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to the US,” she said, but added, “Corruption is a security issue as well, because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow.”


Yep, tell us about it.

Yovanovitch, who went into the Foreign Service in part because her parents had fled Nazi and communist regimes, ended up fighting her own two-front war, trying to encourage the Ukrainian government to root out corruption while battling an all-out assault on her integrity from Trump and his cronies.

That was the battle she eventually lost when she was recalled to Washington in May — the victim of a smear campaign. The timing could not have been worse — at least from a foreign policy perspective, with a newly elected Ukrainian president coming into office.

“This was precisely the time when continuity in the Embassy in Ukraine was most needed,” she told the committee.

But what’s stability at the embassy when Rudy is running the show from outside the gates.

And long before the substance of that now contentious July 25 phone call from the White House became public, the rest of the world apparently knew a serious and utterly corrupt game was afoot.

In a report posted Aug. 29 by the European Council on Foreign Affairs, Gustav Gressel wrote that indeed Yovanovitch had been the victim of a “crude fraud” by a corrupt and subsequently ex-prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, yet, “Trump seemingly calculated that he could use the case to damage political rival Joe Biden, by spinning conspiracy theories about the US deep state’s reach in Ukraine.”


Meanwhile with Trump breathing down his neck, new Ukrainian President Zelensky launches the nation’s first High Anti-Corruption Court, a 38-judge tribunal, years in the making, that faced a potential 3,500 corruption-related cases on its opening day in September. (An effort was being made to weed out “expired” cases and minor cases to allow the court to focus on a list of more than 369 high profile individuals charged with corruption, according to Transparency International.)

Encouraging that kind of effort had been part of Yovanovitch’s portfolio. It’s part of what our career foreign service officers do — promote what we always assumed were American values.

Not Trump values. Not Rudy Giuliani values. Not the self-serving what’s-in-it-for-me policies of this administration. That kind of corruption isn’t just something our own nation has to deal with — no, it’s also something the Trump administration is spreading like a cancer wherever it can.

Marie Yovanovitch was a victim of that corruption. So was the new Ukrainian administration, which needed our help — and still does — but got nothing for its efforts but yet another corrupt deal.

Rachelle G. Cohen can be reached at