The president of Ukraine could have been forgiven for hoping President Donald Trump would back his fight against endemic corruption, and support his country in its grinding war against Russia-sponsored separatists.
Instead, during a July phone call, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was boxed into a Catch-22 by Trump, whose requests ran counter to years of U.S. foreign policy in the region.
It also worries activists and experts, who say declassified details of the call mark a setback for pro-West reformers in the country — raising questions about the future of U.S.-Ukraine relations under the Trump administration.
"There's a certain feeling of injustice," said Orysia Lutsevych, a research fellow on Ukraine at the Chatham House think tank in London.
"The strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States was always to make sure that Ukraine carries out reforms, that it is able to deter Russia, and has a rule-based government," she said. "But here, in this conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy, there was hardly any discussion about Russia, nor about the need for Ukraine to really build an independent judiciary."
"Quite the opposite: Trump wanted President Zelenskiy to use the judiciary for U.S. domestic politics," Lutsevych said.
A declassified whistleblower complaint alleges Trump pressured Zelenskiy to dig dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for U.S. military aid.
A memo from the call has dismayed Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, who have devoted their lives to trying to rid politics of backroom deal-making between officials and business people.
Daria Kaleniuk said she was astonished to see the very tactics Washington has historically decried being deployed by its current president.
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"This is exactly what we tried to change in Ukraine for the last five years," said Kaleniuk, who is executive director of Ukraine’s nongovernmental Anti-Corruption Action Centre.
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Transparency "is the cornerstone of Ukraine's anti-corruption reforms, which were reinforced for many years by the United States," she said. "And now the president of the United States is [acting] quite contrary to what we were actually trying to achieve."
The U.S. helped Ukraine establish its Anti-Corruption Bureau, which started work this year and whose officers were trained by the FBI.
The Ukrainian leader also mentioned on the call his desire to buy U.S. anti-tank missiles. Trump replies with a request for "a favor" — look into a long-discredited conspiracy about Russia's 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
"The reply from President Trump was nothing about war, or about Javelins or about Russian aggression. It was something about national politics in the United States," Kaleniuk said, referring to the Javelin anti-tank missiles Ukraine wants to buy from the U.S.
"For many years, the U.S. was the key partner in facing this aggression, but now it looks like we're being dragged into national political battle in the U.S. where ... we're forced to pick sides," she said.
The U.S. has given Ukraine $1.5 billion in security assistance since 2014, when the conflict with the pro-Moscow fighters began. More than 13,000 people have been killed since then.
Days before his call with Zelenskiy, the Trump administration froze almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. It released that hold just before Democrats in Congress revealed the existence of the whistleblower complaint.
Some believe that the intense focus on the issue might actually help Ukraine.
"A lot of people will now be watching the new prosecutor general," Lutsevych said, referring to Zelenskiy's recent appointment to the role. "This will put an extra magnifying glass on the whole thing."
"I think now the information is public, about the possible attempts to pressure Ukraine, the aid will flow," she added. "Any risk to military or technical assistance would be viewed as a punishment, not blackmail."
Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.
Yuliya Talmazan is a London-based journalist.
Mac William Bishop and Erin McLaughlin contributed.