Deputy Mariana Bezuhla impinged upon the sacred — she dared to criticize the Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhnyi. Who the hell is she? Hereʼs large profile of her (part two)

Oksana Kovalenko
Kateryna Kobernyk
Deputy Mariana Bezuhla impinged upon the sacred — she dared to criticize the Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhnyi. Who the hell is she? Hereʼs large profile of her (part two)

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At one oʼclock in the morning on January 11, MP of the presidential "Servant of the People" (SP) faction, Mariana Bezuhla, made an unexpected statement — she announced that she was leaving the faction and the party of the same name and was resigning from the post of deputy head of the parliamentary committee on national security and defense. "I donʼt need a weak faction and a party in the war," she announced and noted that she had already written relevant applications. The ostentatious divorce with the SP actually saved Bezuhla from a much less spectacular finale — the day before, the Ukrainian Parliament was supposed to vote on her dismissal from the committee, and there were enough votes in favor of this, several "Babel" sources in the parliament tell. Bezuhla was saved by the fact that parliament Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk did not put the question to the vote and closed the meeting. Over the past few months, Maryana Bezuhla was constantly at the center of discussions and scandals, and most importantly, she constantly criticized the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and, in particular, Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhnyi. Because of the latterʼs high approval ratings, Bezuhla received thousands of negative comments on social networks and gradually lost allies. And the opponents of Zelenskyʼs team constantly repeated two main theses. The first is that a 35-year-old girl does not have the expertise to criticize the command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The second one is that she criticizes Zaluzhnyi by order of the Presidentʼs Office, which itself does not dare to criticize him, but feels hostile towards CinC whose level of trust is higher than that of the President. "Babel" correspondent Oksana Kovalenko decided to find out if this is really the case. She spoke with several dozen people who knew Bezuhla at different times — with military personnel, officials, deputies, colleagues, managers and subordinates. Some gave comments on condition of anonymity. Bezuhla also agreed to talk, although not right away. In the first part of the long profile, we wrote about her family, studies, service and coming to the parliament. The second part is about a full-scale invasion, friendship and conflict with Zaluzhnyi, and relations with the president.

Bezuhla and war

Bezuhla met a full-scale war in the government quarter with a packed backpack. "I knew what was going to happen, but I didnʼt know if I would wake up," she later recalled on Facebook.

Bezuhla took this photo on the night of February 23-24, 2022 in the government quarter.

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Since the beginning of the invasion, Bezuhla communicated with Chief of Staff Valery Zaluzhnyi and his deputies and came to the General Staff control post several times in February 2022. She explains that she was there as a member of parliament and deputy head of a specialized committee.

At the end of March — beginning of April 2022, Bezuhla went to Poland together with a delegation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The delegation had to convince Poland to hand over old Soviet T-72 tanks, artillery and other equipment to Ukraine. The negotiations were difficult. Three sources familiar with their progress say that Bezuhla chose her style of communication — she announced a hunger strike. On Facebook, she explained that she was on hunger strike as a sign of solidarity with the suffering Ukrainians, and during meetings with Polish officials, she demanded to hand over weapons and said that she was on hunger strike precisely because of this. Once, after an official meeting with the Minister of Defense of Poland, Bezuhla asked him to talk in private, and when they entered the office, the deputy closed the door — behind the closed door, she demanded to provide tanks to Ukraine. The interlocutors of Babel in SP are sure that this conversation has become the critical one.

Bezuhla together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba at the Embassy of Ukraine in Poland.

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Bezuhla herself says that she has not done anything specific. “We were just saying, I donʼt know why everyone was scared. I didnʼt threaten him, I just asked him [to give tanks] once again," she tells Babel. Be that as it may, a few weeks after the return of the delegation, Poland publicly announced that it would transfer 100 T-72 tanks to Ukraine.

In April 2022, Bezuhla began going to the front in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. She often published photos and selfies from frontline towns and villages. She says that this is how she understood what is actually happening in the war, what are the needs and problems there. In general, Bezuhla admits that she is more comfortable with the military than in Kyiv among civilians and politicians. It is difficult to say whether this feeling is mutual. Military personnel who were in the Luhansk region at the time say that they did not understand what the deputy was doing on the front lines, and some were frankly annoyed by her visits.

Bezuhla communicated with the military during her trips to the front.

Bezuhla communicated with the military during her trips to the front.

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An open conflict took place in Bezuhla with the head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Gaidai. She called him herself in May 2022 and offered to meet. Bezuhla arrived accompanied by a military man: "I am Maryana Bezuhla, member of parliament, member of its defense committee, I was involved in the defense of Kharkiv," thatʼs how, according to Gaidai, she started the conversation. "After that phrase, I understood in which vector everything would go," he recalls. But the conversation went okay. And after that, Bezuhla went to various brigades, and then called Gaidai and told whom and what he should help. Gaidai was outraged: according to him, he had been in constant contact with the military since his appointment in 2019, when Bezuhla had no idea about the needs of the soldiers. Because of these disputes, on June 24, 2022, Bezuhla in a Facebook post asked the president to fire Gaidai. As expected, Zelenskyi did not react to this, and Gaidai worked for another nine months — until March 2023.

Friendship and war with Zaluzhnyi

If Bezuhla is to be believed, she coordinated all her trips to the front with Valery Zaluzhnyi. He handed her military awards, which Mariana presented on his behalf. Sometimes she took pictures of these moments and sent them to the CinC.

Bezugla brought awards from Zaluzhnyi to the military.

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She was introduced to Zaluzhnyi by the former adviser of the Office of the President Oleksiy Arestovych even before the full-scale invasion. They became friends, Bezuhla publicly congratulated him on the award of the rank of general and on his birthday, supported and praised him on social networks, and at the request of the military leadership registered the necessary draft laws in the parliament. One of them gave commanders the right to use weapons in case of offenses by subordinates, for example, to prevent desertion. The document was registered in May 2022. It outraged almost everyone — both ordinary soldiers and human rights defenders. Later it was recalled.

Bezuhla's post with congratulations to Valery Zaluzhnyi with his hirthday.

Bezuhla was also involved in the latest draft law on mobilization, collated the proposals of various groups — the Ministry of Defense and the active military, went from one to another with amendments, but was dissatisfied with the final version of the government.

According to Bezuhla, her relationship with Zaluzhnyi deteriorated when she began to notice problems at the frontline: poor training of soldiers who fled or died in the very first battle, or changes of brigades in the midst of military operations. She assures that she tried to convince him to change this approach, but her patience broke when she found out that Zaluzhnyi was defending his doctoral thesis in philosophy at the law academy of Serhii Kivalov, the former head of the Central Election Commission during Leonid Kuchmaʼs time. It was he who was accused of massive falsification of the results of the presidential elections in favor of Viktor Yanukovych in 2004. "Then we finally had a fight and never spoke again. I waited another two weeks and came out publicly," says Bezuhla, referring to her demand for Zaluzhnyiʼs resignation. The SP faction decided not to intervene in the conflict.

Almost everyone with whom Babel spoke during the preparation of the article, which is dozens of people from various fields, including active military personnel, agree that Bezuhla is often right and raises the right issues in his claims to the command. She calls for a fight against Soviet relics, criticizes the work of military medical commissions and the fact that the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense do not pay enough attention to drones. Instead, this is done by the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the Security Service of Ukraine. And she also emphasizes the need to conduct analyzes of unsuccessful operations, not to silence problems, and better train people, take into account their abilities and specialties. "It was not possible to criticize the military in 2014 and 2022, but it is already 2024, you need to speak and correct, because then it will be too late. Bezuhla is the first one who dared to do this and took the hit on herself," says the interlocutor of Babel, who helps prepare draft laws in the Defense Ministry.

Likewise, everyone who has crossed paths with Bezuhla in one way or another agrees: the way she talks about the army and its problems is completely unacceptable and causes a backlash in many. "She doesnʼt know how to communicate such topics correctly, she doesnʼt feel halftones, she doesnʼt have empathy, she says what she thinks without any filters at all. To explain to her what is wrong, we have to spend hours," says one of Babelʼs interlocutors from the SP faction on condition of anonymity.

Bezuhla seems to know about this problem of hers, but she is not going to change. "Let me be hated, but the information penetrates into society and is already being discussed. Desacralization has taken place, people are no longer afraid to discuss problems in the Ukrainian Armed Forces”, she says. “My life and my reputation are worth nothing compared to what is happening now, that now every five minutes someone is injured or killed. Deputy status is not an end of the road, it is a tool. I want to change the country. We are from a lost generation, we had one revolution, a second revolution, then a war. If we invest now in stabilizing ourselves, then our children and grandchildren will be able to live differently. We are collapsing, we are covered in blood, not everyone will live to see it, but this is how steel is hardened, this is the acquisition of statehood."

Bezuhla says that during her trips to the front, she saw a lot of command mistakes and was disappointed in Zaluzhnyi.

Bezuhla says that during her trips to the front, she saw a lot of command mistakes and was disappointed in Zaluzhnyi.

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For some time Arakhamia tried to protect and calm Bezuhla down. He explained that her sharp statements can be perceived as a factional position and this harms colleagues. According to two of our interlocutors, Zelenskyy scolded Bezuhla for her statements and pranks, for provoking hate. On the other hand, Bezuhlaʼs behavior is beneficial to the Office of the President: she voices the problems on the front, which Office is afraid to talk about, and Bezuhla is a convenient placeholder.

Bezuhla denies this, says that her position is just personal, and in her statements she also appeals to the president, in particular, in matters concerning the commander-in-chief. "It is difficult for people to believe in the subjectivity of a politician, especially a woman," she believes and adds: "Office of the President is far from the ideals of corporate management, but it is a product of the environment, a consequence of the political culture of triple standards."

At the end of October, the deputy outdid herself and posted a poll asking whether people wish members of parliaments dead. This infuriated even those "servants" who had previously preferred not to intervene in Marianaʼs conflicts. They tried to talk to her and explain that people should not be provoked to such thoughts, but this did didnʼt work.

The poll in question. Most people chose "Yes".

Bezuhla provoked several more waves of hate. For example, she criticized the director of the Holodomor Museum, Lesya Hasydzhak, for being overweight and advised her to eat less sweets. And she also very unsuccessfully expressed her condolences to her colleague, member of parliament Oleksiy Movchan, in connection with the death of his nine-month-old son. She also did not stop criticizing Zaluzhnyi and reproached him even where he wasnʼt directly responsible.

On Friday, January 5, the committee on national security and defense recommended by a majority of votes to the parliament to recall Bezuhla from the position of deputy chairman of the committee. It came as a surprise to her, and she considered the act of her "boss" — the head of committee Oleksandr Zavytnevych — as a betrayal.

On Wednesday, January 10, Bezuhla did the almost impossible — she united almost all political forces in the parliament in her hatred: "European Solidarity", "Holos", "Batkivshchyna", Razumkovʼs group and even a part of SP. However, Parliament Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk quickly closed the meeting without considering the committeeʼs decision. According to Babel, Office of the President told not to vote on the resolution.

Bezuhla says that Stefanchuk closed the meeting because the position of deputy chairman of the committee is a faction quota, and the leadership of the faction, like the president, was not informed of the decision to remove her. In fact, the deputies did not have to warn Zelenskyi — according to the law, he should not interfere in the work of the parliament.

Bezuhlaʼs personal devotion to the president is obvious — she does not hide it. When "Kvartal 95" recently unsuccessfully joked about an immigrant from Skadovsk who does not know Ukrainian, Bezuhla did not remain silent. "You were created by the current President of the country and are forever associated with him, do not frame him. It is changing, the country is changing, so change or be silent," she wrote on Facebook. And on January 10, she announced that she was leaving the faction and the party, but would continue to support the president.

But in the Presidential Office, the interlocutors of Babel say that they are tired of Bezuhlaʼs constant scandals and negativity. The thoughts and feelings of many of her acquaintances and like-minded people, with whom Babel communicated, were briefly formulated by Bezuhlaʼs colleague on the committee Yehor Chernev — with whom she also managed to quarrel. "All this time, I defended Mariana, discounting the peculiarities of her approaches to work and paying tribute to her perseverance and activity. But everything has its limit. I no longer have the strength or desire to babysit her anymore, especially in such a difficult time," he wrote on Facebook.

And Bezuhla made another post — criticizing Zaluzhnyi, who worked for several days on the Eastern Front. "If Russia will mobilize 400,000, then will we too? And if another 400? And more? They will find people, and we? Does symmetry work? But even the Russians have already shuffled their generals several times. If we donʼt do this, the dynamics of the last month only confirm that we are going nowhere. A small Soviet army". And she put two photos next to each other — Zaluzhnyi and Shoigu bent over paper maps. Each to his own.