Zelenskyy fires security chief, top prosecutor over treason concerns within their departments

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired the head of the country's security service and its prosecutor general on Sunday, citing hundreds of criminal proceedings into treason and collaboration by people within their departments.

Ukrainian leader cites hundreds of criminal proceedings into treason, collaboration

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen at a news conference in Kyiv on July 11. (Andrew Kravchenko/The Associated Press)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired the head of the country's security service and its prosecutor general on Sunday, citing hundreds of criminal proceedings into treason and collaboration by people within their departments.

"In particular, more than 60 employees of the prosecutor's office and the [Security Service of Ukraine] have remained in the occupied territory and work against our state," Zelenskyy said.

"Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the state's national security, and the links recorded between Ukrainian security forces and Russian special services raise very serious questions about their respective leaders," he said.

He dismissed Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, and replaced her with her deputy Oleksiy Symonenko.

He also dismissed Ivan Bakanov, the head of Ukraine's security service, the SBU. Bakanov was a long-time friend of Zelenskyy's, according to Ukrainian news agencies.

Ivan Bakanov, the head of Ukraine's security service, left, is seen with Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova at a news conference in Kyiv on May 11. Zelenskyy on Sunday dismissed them both. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian counter-offensive looms in south

Earlier Sunday, Russian missiles hit industrial facilities at Mykolaiv, a strategic city in southern Ukraine. Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said the missiles struck an industrial and infrastructure facility in the city, a key shipbuilding centre in the estuary of the Southern Bug river. There was no immediate information about casualties.

Mykolaiv has faced regular Russian missile strikes in recent weeks as the Russians have sought to soften Ukrainian defences.

The Russian military has declared a goal to cut off Ukraine's entire Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border. If successful, such an effort would deal a crushing blow to the Ukrainian economy and trade, and allow Moscow to secure a land bridge to Moldova's separatist region of Transnistria, which hosts a Russian military base.

Early in the campaign, Ukrainian forces fended off Russian attempts to capture Mykolaiv, which sits near the Black Sea coast between Russia-occupied Crimea and the main Ukrainian port of Odesa. Since then, Russian troops have halted their attempts to advance in the city but have continued to pummel both Mykolaiv and Odesa with regular missile strikes.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia's Security Council, which is chaired by President Vladimir Putin, responded to Ukrainian officials' statements that Kyiv may strike the bridge linking Crimea and Russia, warning that would trigger devastating consequences for the Ukrainian leadership.

"They will momentarily face Doomsday," Medvedev said Sunday. "It would be very hard for them to hide."

Medvedev, who once was touted by the West as more liberal compared to Putin, said Russia will press its action in Ukraine until fulfilling its stated goal of "denazifying" and "demilitarizing" the country. He predicted the fighting will "undoubtedly lead to the collapse of the existing regime" in Kyiv.

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Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Lt.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that Russian missiles destroyed a depot for anti-ship Harpoon missiles delivered to Ukraine by NATO allies, a claim that couldn't be independently confirmed.

The Russians, fearing a Ukrainian counter-offensive, also sought to reinforce their positions in the Kherson region near Crimea and in part of the northern Zaporizhzhia region that they seized in the opening stage of the war.

The British Defence Ministry said Sunday that Russia is moving troops and equipment between Kherson, Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia, and increasing security measures around Melitopol.

It added: "Given the pressures on Russian manpower, the reinforcement of the south whilst the fight for the Donbas continues indicates the seriousness with which Russian commanders view the threat."

Struggle for Donbas

For now, the Russian military has focused on trying to take control of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas, home to Moscow-backed separatists and where the most capable and well-equipped Ukrainian forces are located.

Ukraine says its forces still retain control of two small villages in the Luhansk region, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbas, and are fending off Russian attempts to advance deeper into the second one, the Donetsk region.

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The Ukrainian military's General Staff said Sunday that Ukrainian troops thwarted Russian attempts to advance toward Sloviansk, the key Ukrainian stronghold in Donetsk, and attacks elsewhere in the region.

Yet Russian officials are urging their troops to produce even more territorial gains. During a visit to the front lines Saturday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu issued an order "to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas."