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U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine, Openly Criticized By Top Ukrainian Prosecutor, Departing Early

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich

The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine is departing her position in May, two months ahead of schedule.

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to RFE/RL on May 6 that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch “is concluding her 3-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned.”

“Her confirmed departure date in May aligns with the presidential transition in Ukraine,” which elected a new president last month, the spokesperson said.

“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,” the spokesperson added.

The statement did not provide further details.

Earlier in the day, four people familiar with the decision told RFE/RL that Yovanovitch was leaving by the middle of May but gave no indication exactly why she was departing.

The four people, who include embassy employees and others, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sections of an e-mail shared with RFE/RL but not yet made public said Yovanovitch’s last day would be May 20, and a charge d’affaires -- basically an embassy's chief operating officer -- would then be appointed long-term until a new ambassador is nominated and confirmed.

Sworn in as ambassador to Kyiv in August 2016, Yovanovitch has been at the forefront of U.S. efforts to help stabilize Ukraine's shaky economy and push reforms to root out endemic corruption.

She's also been at the forefront of U.S. backing for Ukraine in its ongoing fight with Moscow over Russia-backed fighters battling Ukrainian government forces in eastern regions since 2014.

Yovanovitch drew attention in early March when,weeks before Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election, she called on Kyiv to fire the country's special anti-corruption prosecutor. The speech was notable not only for its timing but also its bluntness.

President Petro Poroshenko, who has been accused of not doing enough to tackle corruption, lost his reelection bid in an April 21 runoff vote against comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Yovanovitch was also the target of an explosive claim in March by Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, who alleged she had given him "a list of people whom we should not prosecute" during their first in-person meeting.

The claim, made in an interview by Washington-based newspaper The Hill, prompted an unusual rebuke by the State Department. "The allegations by the Ukrainian prosecutor-general are not true and are intended to tarnish the reputation of Ambassador Yovanovitch," it said.

Lutsenko's claim got further attention later when a tweet about the story was retweeted by President Donald Trump's son.

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