Martial law in Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine’s east rages on, every now and then there is talk in the media of the need for martial law. Many Ukrainians believe martial law is a magic wand that will bring immediate and decisive results.

But what are the pros and cons?

Simply put, martial law is a special legal regime that applies to the whole of Ukraine or certain areas (you can find more news about Ukraine’s Army here).

Martial law is imposed in case of a threat to the country’s territorial integrity or armed aggression and gives special powers to local administrations and military command, which, in turn, place certain restrictions on the constitutional rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens.


Who can introduce martial law in Ukraine?

According to the Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Regime of Martial Law”, martial law is established by a decree of the President of Ukraine (the document must contain justification for martial law, its territorial coverage, and the start and duration of the special regime), upon the submission of a proposal by the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC).

Once approved by the Verkhovna Rada, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and command of other Ukrainian forces become responsible for its implementation. The special regime is lifted once its term expires or the threat to Ukraine’s security and defence is removed.


How will Ukrainians’ lives change if the president says “yes”?

The martial law calls for the formation of military administrations under the control of the General Staff and Cabinet of Ministers. Military administrations are responsible for enforcing the following:

1) Compulsory labour service. This means that all able-bodied individuals not engaged in the defence sector or the provision of essential services are called up for defence-related and other socially useful work, as well as the elimination of consequences of emergencies (they are paid wages and their previous jobs are secured);

2) Increased security at strategic infrastructure;

3) Allocation of production capacity and resources to defence, including possible changes in operations at these enterprises;

4) Compulsory requisition of private and communal property for the needs of the state (compensation is provided and a special document issued);

5) Curfews and special blackout periods;

6) Entry and exit rules for dangerous territories;

7) Restrictions on the freedom of movement and vehicle traffic (if necessary); security forces are given the green light to check IDs, search belongings, vehicles, cargo and private homes (on condition that they do not violate any other laws);

8) Prohibition of rallies, demonstrations, strikes, actions, events and other peaceful assemblies;

9) Special attention to the activities of political parties and public organizations directed against the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the right to ban such groups;

10) Prohibition of the sale of weapons, alcohol and alcoholic beverages, toxic chemicals. And much more.


Will martial law be declared in Ukraine?

This issue was discussed during Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula. In response to the Kremlin’s armed aggression, senior officials did, in fact, consider invoking the piece of legislation analysed above, but Ukraine’s European and American partners demanded they not fuel the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

And so Ukraine would have to go through the deadly battles of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, llovaisk and Debaltseve to develop its own position on introducing martial law.

The Commander-in-Chief did not rule out this option last year. In late April 2017, Deputy Minister of Defence Ihor Pavlovskyi commented that it could happen if there was a negative “development in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine”. Ukraine would then officially go to war with the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (L/DPR) and reject the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) regime.

Ukraine has the necessary resources in place: the number of Ukrainian brigades and regiments in the conflict zone has increased from 8 at the start of the war to 25; the number of battalions and divisions has grown from 50 to 150, and the number of personnel jumped from 32,000 to 73,000. 

Furthermore, Ukraine’s military budget is larger than ever before: this year Parliament allocated nearly UAH 52 billion for the Armed Forces.

After Pavlovskyi’s statement, deputy Ivan Vynnyk of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security and Defence picked up the issue. On June 14, the parliament member said the forthcoming draft law on reformatting the anti-terrorist operation would introduce martial law in certain districts of the Occupied Regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (ORDLO), and interestingly enough – Crimea.

On July 12, the NSDC released its draft law on reintegration, which recognizes the occupation of ORDLO by Russia. Article 9 of the document leaves the “decision on introducing martial law” to the president of Ukraine.

In summary: it is possible that martial law will be declared in Ukraine, but only if the war in the east escalates.