Ukraine: a military Christmas

While people around the world are preparing to celebrate Christmas, Ukrainians have already received an unexpected gift under the Christmas tree martial law. It was not coming from Santa, but everyone will have to accept it, as it’s been imposed  by the government.

Мartial law was introduced in 10 regions of Ukraine, as voted by the Supreme Council of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada) at an emergency session on 26 November. These are the territories bordering Russia: Vinnitsa, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolaev, Odessa, Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, as well as in the internal waters of the Azov-Kerch water area. Martial law was implemented on November 28, and it will last until 26 December.

Ukraine’s  government, led by Petro Poroshenko, determined that such dramatic measures are necessary, due to the wave of Russian aggression in the Kerch Strait. The border ship of the Russian Federation rammed one of the Ukrainian military tugboats, and then captured 3 vessels, wounded 6 sailors and captured 24 more.

But this is only the outward face of the conflict. The other face is practically not reported in the mass-media. There are restrictions that martial law has imposed on the inhabitants of the regions.

The first thing that both Ukrainians and residents of Russia have already faced is restrictions on movement. Although entry into the areas under martial law is not prohibited, checkpoints have been strengthened, documents have been carefully checked, and suspicious vehicles have been searched.

Students from the martial law areas who are studying outside the country are also now seriously thinking about whether to buy tickets home. Fears for their loved ones are mixed with the recurring question: “Is it worth it to continue building my future in Ukraine?”

The reason for this is largely fake news, which is flooding the Internet. Ivan Rusnak, the First Deputy of Defence Minister of Ukraine, spoke about it at a briefing. 24 channels reported that on 27 November 27, Russia had begun sending fake messages, supposedly on behalf of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine, in the social network’ apps (Messenger and Viber).

As soon as the Kerch crisis began, Ukrainians young people, first and foremost immediately rushed to the social networks to discuss what had happened, and to search the websites for more detailed information in order to understand what fate awaited their families.

In the Chernihiv region alone, the Operational Command “North” (operational ground force union of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the northern part of Ukrainian territory) found 40 sources with unreliable information. Those sources created not only psychological pressure, but also a wave of panic. In the Kharkiv region, the law enforcement agencies began to monitor these kinds of web pages.

When entering the country, all Russian men aged between 16 and 60 years are especially controlled. A story published in the popular Telegram channel “Belgorod №1” illustrates the new challenges with freedom of movement. It tells of a young couple from Russia that was returning from a holiday through Ukrainian Kharkiv to Russian Belgorod.

Residents of these neighboring cities have long been accustomed to entry and exit without any problems, so this route has become habitual. But in this case, the Russian man was detained by the border service, and he was not allowed back into Russia. Therefore, the way home was longer than expected: first to Belarus, Minsk, then Moscow, and only then Belgorod.

Ukrainians living abroad have corrected their travel plans. My relatives, despite their desire to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with relatives (and the loss of money for their tickets), have refused to fly to their homeland. It is difficult for them to predict the situation in Ukraine, and “martial law” sounds not so encouraging when compared with the “visa-free regime”.

Another aspect of the present Ukraine military is that personal property (real estate, business, transport, etc.) can be forcibly used by the army. It applies to all areas of martial law. In turn, a person has a right to require a receipt or a document on withdrawal. However, the population feels there is no certainty that the property will be returned later. And at this point, the majority can no longer claim, that they really own something, and what they earned and built, will not be withdrawn for keeps. Similar cases on the example of Donbass and Lugansk ended in irrevocable loss of owners’ property.

At the moment, Ukrainians continue to live an ordinary life. And local elections scheduled for December 23 are likely to take place. According to the representative of the parliament Irina Lutsenko, the president proposes amending and suspending the martial law at this time.

Nevertheless, the majority of Ukrainians belive that the conditions of martial law result from Petro Poroshenkо wanting to take advantage of the instability in order to expand his authority and limit the democratic rights of the population. Although Parliament opposed the seizure of power by the President, reducing both his sphere of influence and the period of martial law from 60 to 30 days, the people are in no hurry to rely on his decisions. The reason is the oligarchic reputation of the Ukrainian Parliament.

On the eve of Christmas, all of Ukraine is waiting to see how events will unfold — citing the adage, “time will tell”, and reminding themselves that martial law is only temporary. And that the winter holidays will bring (except for the holiday weekends) peace on land and sea.

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