(Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy is getting used to being peppered with questions about Donald Trump.
At a briefing during a recent tour of the Baltic region, he interrupted an interpreter relaying a question from a reporter.
“Even without knowing your beautiful language, I understood,” he said. “We’re in Estonia now, but unfortunately everyone’s interested in what’s happening with Trump. I’m interested in relations between our countries. Honestly, I don’t like to comment on this story.”
Zelenskiy may bat the frequent queries away, but that doesn’t mean it’s a comfortable situation for a political neophyte who is still getting to grips with his job.
Every day comes a reminder that Ukraine is at the center of the U.S. impeachment investigation into its president. Not only is the country, or Zelenskiy, frequently name-checked -- Trump did so 12 times last week on Twitter -- but correspondents from Washington have descended en masse on Kyiv, desperate to break the next chapter of the scandal.
Ukraine, until now better known internationally for tangling with Russia in 2014 in a war where President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, is portrayed on American television screens and by some lawmakers as a hotbed of corruption and dodgy dealings. A curiosity. A parody, even. Zelenskiy’s prior career as a comedian is a frequent talking point.
There’s no sign it will stop, either.
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The House Intelligence Committee on the Democrats’ months-long investigation concluded last week that Trump abused his power, compromised national security and then tried to cover it up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put the wheels in motion for a historic vote to impeach Trump on a rapid timetable that could bring things to a conclusion before the Christmas holiday.
At the heart of the inquiry is Trump’s attempt during a July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy to leverage the promise of a White House meeting and the release of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a rival for Trump in the 2020 presidential race.
Still, turn on a television in the former Soviet republic and the subject barely gets a mention. Same for the local papers and weekly news magazines. There’s no great discussion in popular social media forums. The feeling is one of stoic nonchalance.
A recent survey on attitudes toward Zelenskiy contained 25 questions -- on topics from the conflict in eastern Ukraine to privatization. There was even one on a dispute with Poland dating back to World War II. The impeachment inquiry wasn’t broached.
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“People don’t care much,” said Iryna Bekeshkina, who heads the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Kyiv. “And space for questions is limited.”
Despite Ukraine getting more attention in U.S. media “than any other country could possibly imagine,” American firms operating in the eastern European nation are thriving, according to Andy Hunder, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kyiv.
Even so, it’s a tiresome distraction for politicians.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose work in Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment proceedings, turned up in Kyiv last week. While Zelenskiy and his top officials avoided seeing him, social media showed Giuliani meeting with current and previous political figures as part of a cable news documentary that’s critical of the impeachment inquiry.
And there are potential ramifications. Ukraine is locked in a proxy war with Russia, with U.S. help key to beating Moscow back. Undermining Trump could backfire if he is re-elected. Backing him too overtly could be ill-advised if he is not.
Zelenskiy is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in person for the first time for detailed talks this week in Paris, alongside the leaders of France and Germany. They’ll discuss the Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists are still facing off against Ukrainian troops. Meanwhile a deal to ensure vital supplies of Russian natural gas are piped across Ukraine into Europe is due to expire on Dec. 31.
Zelenskiy’s ratings have taken a tumble since the now-infamous call with Trump. That is driven more by concerns about his economic agenda than his dealings with the U.S. president. But a leader constantly being bombarded about Trump is someone less able to devote time and attention to pressing matters at home.
Weekly newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli, perhaps on a hopeful note, has said fatigue could be setting in in the U.S. -- even among Trump’s opponents -- as the impeachment bus rolls on.
“It seems Americans are tired of the political developments that are unfolding,” the paper wrote.
Zelenskiy, for one, can empathize.
To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Langley in London at email@example.com;Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at firstname.lastname@example.org
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