U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was holding an event to honor a murdered Ukrainian anti-corruption activists when she received the call from Washington that President Trump had booted her from her post.
Yovanovitch told the House impeachment inquiry on Friday that she was holding an event in honor of Kateryna Handziuk, an activist who died last year after being doused in sulfuric acid.
“We thought it was important that justice be done for Katya and others who fight corruption in Ukraine because it’s not kind of a table-top exercise there,” Yovanovitch said, adding that she was giving Handziuk’s father a “woman of courage” award at the event in his daughter’s honor.
It was at 10:00 p.m local time on April 24, however, in the middle of the event that Yovanovitch received a phone call from the State Department’s director general telling her to get on the next plane to Washington.
“I asked her what is the next step,” Yovanovitch recalled. “She said she would try to find out more and to try to call me by midnight.” The official told Yovanovitch in a later phone call that an unspecified security issue demanded her departure from Kyiv, which later turned out to be untrue.
The corrupt circumstances that led to Yovanovitch’s removal show a stark contrast with the painful demise of Handziuk.
As an activist in Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson, Handziuk exposed corruption in local law enforcement. In one case, she successfully fought off a libel lawsuit filed by a Kherson police chief after she accused him taking a 3 percent cut from all contracts and tenders under his supervision.
Those accused of directly perpetrating the attack have been charged with murder in Ukrainian courts, but activists have complained that higher level officials who may have ordered the hit on Handziuk have escaped accountability.
The attack came as many anti-corruption activists in Ukraine faced violent attacks. When asked about the spate of violence in September 2018, none other than then-prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko blamed the activists themselves for “total hatred of the authorities” and for “stirring up society.”
Lutsenko later pushed for Yovanovitch’s removal.