Martial Law in Ukraine Is Over: How Did It Change the Country?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On December 26th at 14:00, i.e. at the time of writing, the action of martial law (ML) in Ukraine, which was introduced in ten regions of Ukraine for a month, came to the end. “Strana” analysed how these 30 days passed and how the measures were reflected in the lives of Ukrainians.

An interesting summary of ML was sounded by the People’s Deputies who themselves voted for it at the last coordination council of the Verkhovna Rada. It was passed on December 17th. During their speeches, politicians were many times asked what in general is the sense of martial law, but they couldn’t answer. People’s deputies immediately initiated the introduction of some new measures, but they corrected themselves – as if saying that there were only ten days left, thus it’s already too late.

In other words, the legislators actually recognised, by and large, that martial law, which was eerily announced on all the country’s TV channels, turned out to be a soap bubble. And all of the last 30 days eloquently confirm this.

They inflated it as best they could

The authorities wanted to squeeze more bullet points into martial law. Therefore high-ranking officials tried their utmost. Thus, on the first day the Minister of Infrastructure Vladimir Omelyan reported about the introduction of a specific regime of work concerning railway transport.

However, the event was more remembered by the uniform that he put on – with a blood group, a flag, and other stripes.

Our colleagues from the “Ukranews” agency found out that Omelyan has no right to wear a military uniform, even during martial law. The media reported this to the Ministry of Defence, which turned the situation into the completely absurd.

The staff of the prosecutor’s office didn’t lag behind the Ministry of Infrastructure either. They received (and, of course, published) instructions that indicate many things that are necessary in case the signal of “Mobilisation” in the conditions of the introduction of martial law is announced.

The list included: a passport, shirts (2 pieces), socks (3 pairs), handkerchiefs (6 units), a tracksuit (one piece), a flashlight and batteries for it, a dry ration for two days, and writing materials. It was recommended to prosecutors and investigators to store all of this at the workplace in a portfolio no more than 60×40 centimeters in size.

Secret checkpoints and a ban on alcohol

Meanwhile, it became known that checkpoints had to be set up in the regions where martial law has been imposed. Even those Ukrainians who haven’t been to Donbass in recent years know by hearsay about all the difficulties and inconveniences of checkpoints. Therefore this news didn’t please citizens.

“Strana” found information about the location of socially significant roadblocks, and thus sent queries to all ten regional state administrations, to local security officers, and to the head office of the National Police. We asked to send the coordinate of checkpoints for publication – with the indication of the direction of entry into the city, the length of the route, and the crossings.

The only department that provided us with data about checkpoints is the National Police in the Nikolaev region. The others either redirected us somewhere or specified that the coordinates of checkpoints are private information. As a result, it isn’t known how many of these checkpoints there were, what kind of controls were organised at them, and most importantly – did they being any benefits.

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In parallel, about 300 hospitals where, if necessary, the military, police, and civilians would be evacuated, were supposed to be set up across the entire country. It was noted that in these institutions there has to be a supply of blood preparations, necessary medicines, and a reserve of places in departments and reanimation.

In the Kherson region it was promised to considerably increase the number of UAF units, and on border with the annexed Crimea – to establish a specific regime of entrance and departure. It was decided to not imposed a curfew in the region, but restrictions on the sale of alcoholic drinks were introduced.

The mayor of Odessa Gennady Trukhanov approached the situation differently – he recommended to local shops to not sell alcohol to people in military uniforms. The patrols of South Palmyra and its suburbs were strengthened with dog handlers with guard dogs.

Whether all of this appeared in reality or it was written down only in beautiful reports isn’t known. The population gave no signals about a heavy military presence in the cities where ML was introduced. Except perhaps for the especially impudent catching of recruits on the streets: martial law coincided with the autumn draft.

Russians were banned from entrance and concerts were cancelled

But on the other hand, border guards from the very first days began to show good efficiency in applying martial law. They in large quantities ceased to let Russian citizens – men aged from 18 to 60 – enter Ukraine. The leader of “Leningrad” Sergey Shnurov even devoted a poem to this news that ended with the words: “I will definitely come to you at some point when I am over 60”.

Within the framework of this ban the legendary rock group “Aquarium” led by Boris Grebenshchikov cancelled their Ukraine tour.

The Russian groups “Tarakany” and “Little Big” postponed their concerts in Kiev. Because of martial law the New Year’s parade with the participation of more than 1,000 dancers, acrobats, and musicians was cancelled. And also the well-known Russian poet Dmitry Bykov couldn’t come, and the people who bought tickets for his creative evening complained to the police that they had been thrown under the bus for money.

The singer Viktor Saltykov was not allowed to enter Ukraine. The dancer Ildar Tagirov was refused entrance, as well as Russian journalists, including women.

The ceremony “Football Stars of Ukraine” was postponed. The “Shakhtar” vs “Lyon” match was moved to Kiev from Kharkov.

One more department that, in addition to the Border Service, reported about a lot of work became the Central Election Commission. The commission cancelled local elections in ten “military” regions, which later took place in the country on December 23rd.

What about the detained sailors?

As is known, the sea conflict that took place on November 25th became the formal reason for the announcement of martial law. The background is as follows: three Ukrainian warships – 2 armoured boats and 1 tug – approached the Kerch strait from Crimea, but Russia didn’t let them pass. When they tried to head back, the border service of the FSB of the Russian Federation detained the Ukrainian vessels, opening fire at the crew and wounding one of them. All 24 Ukrainian sailors who were on them were also arrested.

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A measure of restraint was imposed on all of them – they will stay in a pre-trial detention center until January 25th, where they will meet New Year. At the time of writing, 22 out of the 24 sailors declared that they are prisoners of war.

The situation with their release doesn’t progress in the same way as an exchange of prisoners between the LDPR and Kiev. During Vladimir Putin’s press conference that took place on December 20th he reported that to the head of the political council of the “For Life” party Viktor Medvedchuk came to Moscow and raised the question of releasing the captured Ukrainian sailors. But Putin said that the sailors can be released only after a sentence is pronounced to them.

If there is a guilty verdict (they face up to six years of prison), the sailors have to ask for pardon. Respectively, until the Russian court renders a verdict, the sailors will continue to be under arrest, as the Russian President stated to journalists. He also added that “Kerch is a bad way of raising approval ratings. There was the hope [from Kiev’s side – ed] that some of the sailors would be killed”.

At the same time, the Ukrainian side persistently states that the sailors are official prisoners of war.

Concerning communication between Putin and Poroshenko, it didn’t take place at all. In particular, the Russian leader decided not to answer the phone calls of his Ukrainian colleague, which was also declared to the media. “The matter is I don’t simply evade and don’t want to talk to Petro Poroshenko. The fact is that I don’t want to take part in his electoral campaign,” said Putin.

According to him, Poroshenko “skilfully creates crisis and provocative situations” in order to shift responsibility to Russia and “immediately show that he successfully solves the arisen problems”. “This is a simple combination, and I don’t want to and will not take part in these combinations,” he said.

Nazi badge at a meeting with Poroshenko

Petro Poroshenko, in turn, carried out active PR with martial law, appearing even more often at different reviews. But it didn’t turn out to be completely successful. Thus, on December 6th the president visited one of the military units of the Zhytomyr region. There he participated in loading the property of the Airborne troops into planes for transfer within the framework of fulfilling tasks determined by martial law.

But there was an awkward situation. As part of the event, Poroshenko met soldiers from the 95th brigade and was photographed with them. One of them was wearing a badge on his chest with the emblem of the 3rd tank division SS “Totenkopf”.

After this, information was widely spread in the media, the command of Airborne troops decided to distance itself from this incident as much as possible and came up with a post on Facebook. The post accused not so much the paratrooper as it did “anti-Ukrainian propaganda”.

Also memorable from the other events that happened during the period of martial law is the appearance on the “Pryamoy” channel of Lieutenant General Grigory Omelchenko, who published “confidential maps of the General Staff of the Russian Federation” related to Russia’s preparations for an “attack” on Ukraine.

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But already by the middle of December the rhetoric of Poroshenko and the authorities became more peaceful.

For example, at the press conference that took place on December 16th the president stated that if Russia won’t invade, then martial law won’t continue.

Perhaps he was influenced by the words of the special representative of the US Volker, who declared that martial law doesn’t need to be prolonged.

Anyway, during 30 days no incident that would become the basis for extending martial law happened.

Ukrainians didn’t believe the authorities

The people, to put it mildly, didn’t understand the introduction of martial law and didn’t approve of it.

According to a poll carried out by the “Rating” group on December 3rd, this decision was supported only by a third of respondents, and nearly 60% didn’t support it.

At the same time, nearly two thirds of respondents (63%) assumed that the president Petro Poroshenko wanted to impose martial law in Ukraine for 60 days for the purpose of postponing presidential elections. This is a very negative indicator for the president, who, obviously, wanted to increase his own approval rating via the introduction of martial law.

“60% of Ukrainians don’t support the introduction of martial law (poll carried out by ‘Rating’). 69% consider it to be an overdue decision, and 63% believe that Poroshenko wanted to postpone elections. The people didn’t believe his narrative. Most likely, it’s not for nothing that the main strategist of his [Poroshenko’s – ed] campaign [Igor – ed] Gryniv was strongly against martial law. It is said that things even reached a scandal. But the immediate environment, plus Turchynov, was persuaded to do it. Akela missed”

wrote the well-known journalist Sergey Shcherbina on his Facebook page

A week later, on December 10th, one more poll was completed. It was carried out by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Researches named after A. Yaremenko and the “Social Monitoring” center. The results are very similar: 64.5% of respondents didn’t support the introduction of martial law and 56.6% of respondents believe that Poroshenko wanted to postpone the date of presidential elections via the introduction of martial law.

Thus, it is possible to note that if martial law somehow changed the situation in the country, it was only in respect of the growth of the mistrust that people have of the authorities and Poroshenko personally, who wasn’t able to explain to Ukrainians why it was necessary.

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