Vitaly Klitschko said he drew ire by backing an official whose Ukrainian passport was revoked while on a trip abroad
The government of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky made a veiled threat to strip the citizenship of Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko, the head of the Ukrainian capital claimed in an interview published on Monday.
"I had a conversation with an innuendo: 'Since you are so proactive, we could look into your German citizenship'. I said: 'I'd be very surprised if somebody showed me a German passport in my name and took it away,'" he said, as cited by the website Babel.
The exchange allegedly happened after Klitschko signed a public call for Zelensky to reverse his decision to revoke the Ukrainian citizenship of Ukrainian official Gennady Korban, which he ordered last month.
Korban, a longtime close ally of Dnepr Mayor Boris Filatov, was among several Ukrainians whose citizenship was taken away by Zelensky. He was on a foreign trip when the move was made. Upon attempting to return to Ukraine he found himself at an impasse when the border guards would not let him cross back into his home country. Over a hundred Ukrainian public figures supported the open letter to Zelensky, which Filatov published on Facebook in late July.
Klitschko declined to reveal who exactly put pressure on him, but said he supported reinstating Korban's citizenship on principle rather than as a political favor to Filatov.
"Everything must happen under universal principles, not selectively," he explained. "In this case this is how it looks: we'll take this one's [citizenship] and let others keep theirs, so that they are more pliable, realizing that we can take theirs too."
Ukraine disallows dual citizenship. Under the law, Ukrainians who also hold foreign passports are treated as regular citizens but are banned from holding public office. The president may revoke the citizenship of a Ukrainian who takes another passport.
In practice, however, this principle is often ignored. For instance, billionaire Igor Kolomoysky, one of the people targeted by Zelensky's July order, had served as a governor in Ukraine despite holding the citizenship of Cyprus and Israel at the time. The fact was widely known in Ukraine, and Kolomoysky even joked that it was OK, since the law bans dual citizenship, not triple citizenship.
In the interview, Klitschko provided assurance that Ukrainian citizenship is the only one he has. The official was a world-renowned boxer before going into politics and spent much of his athletic career in Germany.
Korban, whose parents are Israelis, has long denied rumors that he holds a passport of the Jewish state.
"I always take pleasure in vacationing in Israel. But I have no intention to ask for asylum or citizenship there since I plan to continue my career in my homeland, Ukraine," he told the media in 2015, responding to reports that he may leave the country.
The issue was brought back into the media spotlight after Zelensky's order and remains murky.
Israel's ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky, said his nation does not normally disclose if a person has its citizenship to protect privacy. "As far as I know, no requests of that nature came from Ukraine," he added.