A Ukrainian presidential adviser has resigned after causing widespread anger when he suggested a Russian missile that killed dozens had been shot down by Ukraine.
Over 40 people were killed in the south-central city of Dnipro and 39 are still missing when a Russian X-22 anti-ship ballistic missile hit an apartment block on Saturday. In comments to a YouTube channel that he appears on daily, hours after the attack, Oleksiy Arestovych said the rocket had detonated after it had been downed by Ukrainian air defence forces.
“The rocket was shot down, it fell on the driveway, it exploded when it fell,” he told Feigin Live.
Hundreds of Ukrainian members of civil society and several prominent figures took to social media in the days afterwards, demanding the presidential administration sack Arestovych for making unverified statements. They said the comments aided Russian propaganda, which frequently portrays attacks as the fault of Ukraine’s armed forces.
In a statement, which did not address the remarks directly, Ukraine’s air defence forces said they did not currently have the technological capabilities to detect or shoot down ballistic missiles.
Arestovych refused to apologise for two days, blaming tiredness and stating that it was “one theory” put forward by a friend who happened to be near the scene. Then on Tuesday, Arestovych published a picture of his resignation letter on Facebook, stating that it was “an example of civilised behaviour” in light of his “fundamental mistake”.
A spokesperson for the president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Serhiy Nykoforov, confirmed that the resignation had been accepted. The former actor and politician was appointed as a freelance, non-staff adviser to the presidential administration in 2020.
During the first few weeks of the invasion, Arestovych was one of the most watched personalities and information sources in Ukraine. He was open about the fact that he produced optimistic content to comfort an otherwise distressed Ukrainian society and referred to himself as a “sedative” for Ukraine.
By spring, however, his popularity and perceived credibility had waned. Far fewer people wanted to hear and would believe his predictions. His statement that the war would last only two to three weeks became the peak moment for his detractors.
In comments to Hromadske TV, media expert Oksana Moroz, said Arestovych “gives (people) something good … They stopped, or perhaps did not have the desire to analyse what was said.”
His critics also said that he portrayed his war-time assessments as based on exclusive information, when he was never on staff and therefore not part of the president’s inner circle. The presidential office has played a careful game in relation to Arestovych, frequently distancing themselves from him, but also recognising his viewership.
In August, official advisor, Mykhailo Podalyak, said Arestovych was not on staff, stating “he talks so much that we made him an adviser to the entire office”. Head of the presidential administration Andriy Yermak, said that he “respected Arestovych” for the role he played with his “army of fans”.