TOPEKA — Investigative journalists visiting from Ukraine say a conversation between presidents involving quid pro quo doesn't register on the scale of high-dollar, frequent corruption in their country.
News reporters understand the severity of the situation, they said, but the general public is less interested.
The reporters reflected on revelations from the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as the group of five young professionals stopped in Topeka this week while visiting the area through a program offered by Global Ties KC. The organization promotes citizen diplomacy, plans cultural activities, and aims to shape foreign affairs through person-to-person contact.
Speaking through an interpreter, Maryna Ansiforova and Valeriia Yehoshyna said corruption is everywhere in Ukraine, and the journalists there regularly disclose corruption. Ansiforova reports for "Our Money," and Yehoshyna reports for "Schemes: Corruption in Detail," two separate, weekly television programs dedicated to exposing misconduct.
"You have to know that corruption in Ukraine is higher and bigger compared to the United States," Ansiforova said. "It's like several floors higher than the United States."
For example, Yehoshyna reported on how a parliament official was unofficially tasked by a previous president with giving direction to a court, as well as the revelation that government officials had siphoned a billion dollars in Ukraine currency from a budget for the energy sector.
Yehoshyna said the pressure applied by Trump to Zelenskiy is considered to be a big deal by news media who are trying to get the general public to take an interest.
"This is quite a delicate matter — and when I say delicate matter, this is not like big embezzlement, like somebody stole something big or made a grand offense," Yehoshyna said. "This is more like a nature of the character, or moral presentation, rather than just professional duties."
Ansiforova said the general public in Ukraine is so used to the demonstration of obvious corruption, it is difficult to grasp the significance of Trump's request for dirt on a political rival while delaying military aid.
"This doesn't register in the Ukrainian mind as an event of corruption," Ansiforova said, "because they know in their eyes and in their minds corruption is something bigger and something more tangible.
"We have one and the same case, or event, that is looked at from two different perspectives — from the perspective of American scale of corruption and the scale of Ukrainian corruption — and these scales are different. In America, it's a big deal. In Ukraine, compared to one billion moved out of the state budget and put into private pockets, a conversation about quid pro quo — this doesn't really compare."
Still, the reporters said, the scandal has damaged the reputation of Zelenskiy, who apparently engaged in conversations with Trump associates immediately after winning election in April with a campaign that promised to stamp out corruption. Zelenskiy received 73% of the popular vote.
The drivers of cabs Yehoshyna frequents in Kiev provide a slice of society view on Zelenskiy's waning popularity.
"Cab drivers in the capital of Ukraine are no longer so enchanted by the president as they used to be several months ago," she said.