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Ukraine ousts more defense officials and decries grain ban by E.U. neighbors

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KYIV — A wide-ranging overhaul of Ukraine's Defense Ministry continued Monday as all six deputy defense ministers were dismissed, two weeks after President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced the top minister amid investigations into overspending and corruption.

The shake-up will allow the new defense minister, Rustem Umerov, the opportunity to install his own team. No specific reason was given for the removals.

Ukrainian forces have been making incremental gains in their counteroffensive to break through Russian lines, but the grinding pace of the operation has raised some concerns in the West that Kyiv will not achieve its objectives this year, despite billions in donated weapons and other military aid.

Meanwhile, Defense Ministry officials have been accused of graft in the country's military recruiting system and of overspending in the procurement of food and supplies. The ousted minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was not implicated personally, but his removal was praised by anti-corruption advocates.

In recent weeks, Russia repeatedly has targeted Ukrainian grain infrastructure, seeking to cripple the agricultural sector, which is vital to Ukraine's economy. That has left Ukraine desperately searching for alternative ways to export grain, including overland through neighboring countries.

In a sign that Moscow's strategy had succeeded in fueling differences between Ukraine and European Union nations, Kyiv announced on Monday that it will file complaints against Poland, Hungary and Slovakia at the World Trade Organization. Those countries have extended a ban on imports of Ukrainian grain seeking to protect their own farmers.

"It is fundamentally important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban the import of Ukrainian goods," Ukrainian Economic Minister Yuliia Svyridenko said in a statement. She said she hoped the three countries would lift the restrictions and Ukraine would not have to "clarify its relationship" with them in court. The timing and details of the complaints was unclear.

Ukraine's neighbors have generally been strong supporters. But the influx of Ukrainian agricultural products has tested that solidarity. On Friday, Hungary announced that it was expanding the ban from grains to 20 other agricultural products, including vegetables, meat and honey.

In the military shake-up on Monday, those officials who were dismissed included Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, who became a familiar face to Ukrainians throughout Russian's invasion of Ukraine by delivering daily updates on the situation on the battlefield. State Secretary Kostiantyn Vashchenko of the Defense Ministry was also removed.

Two weeks ago, Zelensky replaced Reznikov with Umerov, a prominent political activist and head of the country's State Property Fund, promising "new approaches." Reznikov's dismissal followed reports in the Ukrainian media that the Defense Ministry had overpaid for military jackets.

Meanwhile, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Ukrainian forces had broken through Russian defenses near the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

On Sunday, soldiers from the 80th Separate Air Assault Brigade posted a video in front of a destroyed building in what they said was the village of Klishchiivka, near Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces retreated from Bakhmut in May after months of fighting to hold it against a Russian onslaught.

A spokesman for Ukraine's eastern forces, Illia Yevlash, confirmed on Ukrainian television that Klishchiivka had been retaken, which Yevlash said could provide a "jumping-off point" for further actions in the east and help "liberate our land from the occupiers."

The news of Klishchiivka's liberation came two days after Ukrainian forces said they had liberated Andriivka, another village near Bakhmut.

The news about Klishchiivka, while undoubtedly positive for Kyiv, also underlined the slow progress that Ukrainian forces are making.

On Monday, air raid alerts sounded for hours in the early morning across Ukraine, including Kyiv. Ukraine's air force said in a social media post that overnight Russian bombers fired 17 cruise missiles at targets in central and western Ukraine, all of which were intercepted.

Russian forces also launched 24 Iranian-made self-destructing drones at the Odessa and Mykolaiv regions, officials said, 18 of which Ukraine claimed to have successfully destroyed. The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims.

The expiration of the E.U. grain ban last week occurred at particularly crucial time for Poland and Slovakia, with both countries heading into bitterly fought parliamentary elections in the next month.

Poland's right-wing populist government, which relies on the agricultural areas that flank the border with Ukraine as a base of support, has pledged not to allow cheaper Ukrainian grain that was previously exported through the Black Sea ports to flood its market and undercut local farmers.

Polish officials have implied that the E.U. is trying to hurt the chances of the governing Law and Justice party ahead of the elections.

The E.U. takes "political decisions, not based on merit," Poland's agriculture minister, Robert Telus, told Polish television last week. Telus has said that if restrictions were not put on Ukrainian agricultural imports to the E.U., then Poland would not support Ukraine's bid to join the bloc.

"It's a very big issue," said Sonia Sobczyk-Grygiel, an analyst with Polityka Insight, an independent think tank in Warsaw. "Ukraine has great farms, the best soils, they have cheaper labor and energy and they don't have the demands we have as a member of the European Union."

Poland should have been working with the E.U. on a solution rather than ramping up political rhetoric ahead of Brussels's decision, said Dariusz Szymczycha, vice president of the Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce. Now cracks are deepening with both Brussels and Kyiv, he added. "For sure, in Moscow, they are so happy."

Kostiantyn Khudov and Anastacia Galouchka contributed to this report.

Understanding the Russia-Ukraine conflict

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