Zelenskyy extends martial law — delaying parliamentary elections

Updated Aug 17, 2023, 4:32pm EDT
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout
Karina Tsui/

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed legislation Thursday extending martial law and general mobilization until Nov. 15 — sowing doubts over whether the country’s parliamentary elections, due to take place before Oct. 29 — will go ahead.

The Ukrainian constitution prohibits elections while martial law is enacted. The mobilization measure bans men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country. Both measures were imposed at the start of Moscow’s invasion of Kyiv in February 2022 and have been extended several times ever since.

Critics have claimed that Zelenskyy is using martial law to delay elections1 and remain in power — what they say undermines Ukraine's democracy. But conducting an election during a war is “impossible,” experts say. Ongoing shelling makes it unsafe for every Ukrainian to vote, and under the law, the counting of ballots must take place in a single sitting in the view of all observers and committee members. The only safe place to do so during wartime is in a bomb shelter where security cannot always be guaranteed.

Zelenskky's war time hero image has managed to rebuild political consensus in Ukraine2 , but that may change once Kyiv’s counteroffensive against the Kremlin ends, writes Oleh Haiko, a lecturer at the V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. Growing dissatisfaction with how Zelenskyy’s government deals with nonmilitary issues, including corruption and lack of economic reforms, will come to the forefront, renewing criticism around his leadership, weakening voters’ support for him, and creating the demand for new political faces to rebuild Ukraine.

More than 12,000 men have fled Ukraine3 in an attempt to dodge general mobilization by attempting to falsify documents or bribing security personnel in order to leave the country. Some have also traversed mountains and seas to evade conscription. A Ukrainian man, who spoke with the Guardian, said he paid a “fixer”4 $5,000 worth of his savings to fake medical documents claiming he had a spinal injury and was unfit for mobilization. The man now lives somewhere in Europe.

Zelensky has described the incidents as “treason”5 –– vowing to clamp down on officials accepting cash bribes to help Ukrainians leave. Last week, the president fired every single military recruitment head in the country in a bid to sift out corruption. There are currently more than 100 criminal proceedings against officials who have been involved in drafting evasion schemes.