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Ukraine is currently in a state of war after Russia invaded the country after months of high tension at the border on 24 February 2022. Russia commenced an attack from the North (via Belarus), South, and East. Ukraine successfully mobilised its resistance and prevented Russia from reaching Kyiv and quickly overthrowing the government. The Russian offensive since then has focused on the Eastern Donbas region. Ukrainian troops have launched several counteroffensives, hoping to regain territory in the East. It successfully did so by reclaiming large territories in the Kharkiv region (Izyum in September 2022), Luhansk region (Lyman in October 2022), and Kherson (recaptured in November 2022). However, Russia remains to occupy large parts of Ukrainian sovereign territory, including the Crimea peninsula which was annexed in 2014.

According to UNHCR, nearly 8 million people have fled Ukraine to mainly European countries. In addition, a large number of Ukrainians are internally displaced and located in the much safer western part of the country. The humanitarian situation seems to be grave, especially as Russian forces shell and bombard city centres and crucial civil infrastructure, violating international humanitarian law. With winter approaching, the destruction of energy and water systems is a great concern for the population. Atrocities committed by Russian forces have led to accusations of war crimes, with the Ukrainian government calling the Bucha massacre a genocide. Some refugees have already returned to Ukraine as the situation in some parts of the country has become seemingly more stable.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world. Events have continued to unfold quickly since this then, marked by many as a turning point in history. The war has had major negative implications on Ukrainian citizens but also altered its political trajectory. The invasion has united the country’s politics, which had traditionally been split between pro-European and pro-Russian forces. Anti-Russian sentiment has never been so high. On 28 February 2022, Ukraine officially applied for EU membership.

The European Council approved its candidacy on 23 June 2022, alongside with its neighbour Moldova. Although it will likely take years before Ukraine meets the needed EU criteria with regard to democratic procedures, the rule of law, the free-market economy, and corruption, an important hurdle has been taken: EU countries have welcomed Ukraine’s bid for membership. The country’s main priority remains winning the war, while the country awaits more heavy military equipment from NATO and EU allies. Ukraine aims to start negotiations by early 2023, although the European Commission did not start the assessment of the completion of the seven requirements by November 2022.

The war poses both a threat and an opportunity to Ukraine’s democracy. Martial law was introduced by parliament, as decisions need to be taken quickly. The challenge now is to not let the war lead to illiberal shortcuts. Meanwhile, the current situation provides opportunities to rebuild the country and break with “old habits”. There is willingness amongst Western allies to support the country, be it through investments or by providing a pathway for reform through its EU-membership candidacy.

Key Info

1 Political Situation

Political system

Ukraine has a parliamentary presidential system, which means that on a national level, the country elects a head of state, the president, and a legislature. The president is directly elected by the people for a five-year term. The president needs a majority of the votes in the first round to be elected. Otherwise, a second round is held, in which the two candidates with the highest number of votes in the first round can compete.

The parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has 450 members, elected for a four-year term. Since 2014 the effective number of parliamentarians dropped to 424 due to the occupation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas. In the most recent elections of 2014 and 2019 members, half of the members were elected through proportional representation and the other half by single-mandate constituencies. In 2006 and 2007 elections were held under a proportional system only, which in January of 2020 was decided would be re-introduced for the 2023 upcoming election.

The constitution prescribes that the governmental parties must have a majority in parliament. Thus, minority coalitions are formally not an option for government coalitions. Representative bodies and heads of local government throughout Ukraine are elected simultaneously with the Verkhovna Rada. The current ruling Servant of the People (SoP) party is the first to single-handedly form a government in Ukraine’s political history.

Political situation

Volodymyr Zelensky has been at the centre of Ukraine’s politics for some years. On 21 April 2019, the former comedian and actor won the presidential runoff. He defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with a landslide, gaining 73 percent of the votes. Zelensky’s role in the popular television series “Servant of the People” became reality, as he used to play a teacher-turned president that goes on to wipe out corruption and fight against oligarchs. For a majority of the people, this refers to the political establishment personified, in that election, by Poroshenko, and the government’s failure to end corruption over the years.

Zelensky dissolved the parliament on 21 May 2019 to bring forward the parliamentary elections. He did so in an attempt to gain a majority in parliament which would be needed to pass legislation. With approximately 43.14 percent of the votes, Zelensky’s SoP party was the winner of the election. The party, only founded in 2018, is pro-European and pro-NATO but is other than that quite broad and undefined in its ideology. President Zelensky became Ukraine’s first president since the fall of the Soviet-Union, to rule the parliament with a single majority. However, the low voting turn-out is also historic: only 49.9 percent of the population cast a vote.

When Zelensky ran for president, one of his campaign promises was to tackle the widespread corruption and influence of oligarchs. In this respect, the election results were seen as a victory over the old elites ruling the country alongside oligarchs. But as OSCE and other reports show, oligarchs were heavily involved in the campaigns. Most notably as media coverage is particularly unfairly distributed: it was largely dictated by business and political interests. This did not ensure equal coverage for all the candidates. President Zelensky himself has business ties to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, owner of 1+1, one of Ukraine’s most popular TV channels, which had always broadcasted his shows and has given Zelensky a powerful platform.

On 25 October 2020, Ukraine held local elections, viewed by some as a mid-term referendum for Zelensky’s political party. These were held under a new electoral code that decentralized power from Kyiv to local governing bodies. Major changes included a four-time decrease in the number of local councils, the introduction of a proportional system in communities with more than 10,000 voters and a 40 percent gender quota on candidate lists. The gender quota caused quite a stir among the political parties, as they quickly had to look for more women candidates. Old politicians often regrouped into new local parties in preparation for the elections.

Zelensky’s Servant of the People party did not manage to integrate local politicians, and the results showed it. The president’s party performed particularly poorly, while the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform-For Life party did comparatively well. Across the country, national parties proved themselves incapable of overcoming the local parties of individual city mayors. These results showed a welcome to the decentralization of politics and a slow weakening of the centre.

In 2021 Zelenksy and his SoP were also struggling to implement their ambitious agenda, specifically with regards to its anticorruption measures. He faced pressures from inside his party and increasingly surrounded himself with the “familiar faces” to Ukrainian politics that he promised to break with. As a result, his approval ratings had reduced drastically, from a whopping 70 percent in 2019 down to only 23 percent in January of 2021. Something needed to be done. With the backing of the new Biden-led government Zelenksy took a stronger stance against Russia and Russian influence in the country. Out of the blue, the administrations announced it would impose sanctions on individuals and corporations that had close ties to Russia.

There were many others ways in which the administration sought to make progress in the year before the Russian invasion. To improve political neutrality a new law was adopted to limit the influence of oligarchs on national politics in September 2021. The legislation will prevent wealthy individuals from funding political parties or taking part in the privatization of state assets and major companies. Implementing further such reforms will remain difficult so long the war lingers on. Priority one is to liberate more of the Russian-occupied territories in the East. In the years after the country’s newly approved EU membership candidacy might prove an important incentive for further reform, certainly if the newly emerged political unity lasts.

Ukrainian-Russian relations leading up to the invasion

In November 2013 a small protest broke out after President Yanukovych abandoned a trade agreement with the European Union, favouring closer ties with Russia. Online videos of police beating protesters later at night sparked a much larger outrage throughout the country, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets within days, dubbed as the Maidan protest. The Maidan protests resulted in pro-EU protesters occupying the Maidan square and taking control of government buildings for months. Eventually, clashes between pro-EU protesters and the police resulted in an apogee on 18 February 2014, when over 70 protesters were killed. In the political turmoil that followed, President Yanukovich fled the country to Russia.

In the weeks that followed, pro-Russian protests broke out in eastern Ukraine and the southern province of Crimea. Pro-Russian and Russian forces took control of government buildings and strategic military complexes in the Crimea, increasing tensions between Ukraine and Russia. On 16 March 2014 Crimea joined Russia through a referendum in which an suspiciously overwhelming majority voted in favour of Russia. The result of the referendum was not recognized internationally. Both the EU and US governments argue that the referendum violates both the Ukrainian constitution and international law.

In the months following the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, the conflict escalated further. Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 was shot down above eastern Ukrainian territory, killing all 298 passengers on board. The event sparked international outrage and triggered the close involvement of the international community. The EU, US and other countries intensified sanctions on pro-Russian separatists and Russia. Meanwhile, the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk declared themselves independent from Ukraine. Finally in September of 2014, the parties agreed on a ceasefire in Minsk, Belarus.

This so-called Minsk I ceasefire was violated continuously and got out of control in January 2015. In February, Ukraine, Lugansk, Donetsk and Russia agreed to the Minsk II accords, and a new ceasefire was born. This ceasefire was violated intensively in the first week too, when pro-Russian separatists opened an offensive on the strategic city of Debaltseve. After this offensive though, both parties seemed to abide by the Minsk II accords fairly well.

Western sanctions on eastern Ukraine and Russia remained in place, not acknowledging Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian-Russian relations were cold, but seemingly stable. This all changed by late 2021, when Zelenksy’s stance towards Russia hardened and Russian forces gathering around Ukraine’s border for “military practice operations”. Although Biden and Zelenksy had been warning for a full-scale Russian invasion for some time, the unthinkable happening in February 2022. With the violation of the Minks accords, the West agrees that Putin has thereby declared war against democracy, the rule of law, and the possibility for a country to decide its own future.

EU accession?

Ukraine applied for membership in February 2022, as a direct result of the Russian invasion, and obtained candidate status in June 2022. Obtaining candidate status, created enormous hope, confidence and additional motivation to reform the country. Given the progress made and ongoing commitment to reform, the European Commission recommends in its 2023 enlargement report opening accession negotiations with Ukraine. Despite the fact that the country is at war, reforms in the areas of democracy, rule of law, and more are underway in the background. Four of the seven steps Ukraine needed to complete before negotiations can begin have been accomplished: selection procedures for Constitutional Court judges, vetting of Supreme Court candidates, anti-money laundering legislation, and a media law. Corruption is being fought increasingly effectively and needs attention to continue to be countered. The influence of oligarchs should be reduced and the proposed law for this should be implemented as soon as possible. The economy is suffering due to the war, which makes creating a functional market economy difficult. Structural challenges are rife but reconstruction offers an opportunity to modernise the economy and make it ready for the European single market. Regional cooperation with European countries has been strengthened thanks to the war, bringing more military and financial cooperation. Foreign policy is almost entirely in line with that of the EU. The question is how the EU will handle the situation when Ukraine is formally ready to join, but still at war with Russia. Allowing a country to join at war has never happened before and raises new issues when it comes to ensuring common security.

Political rights and civil liberties

According to the NGO Freedom House, Ukraine is viewed as ‘partly free’, though this status does not reflect the conditions in the occupied Ukrainian territories. Corruption is still widespread in the country, and efforts to combat it have met resistance. In Ukraine distrust remains high regarding the judiciary. The country has long suffered from corrupt and politicized courts. Individuals with financial resources and political influence can often escape wrongdoing, and a disproportionate number of those facing trial are in pretrial detention. Efforts to reform the judiciary have so far met significant resistance.

In late 2020, the Constitutional Court annulled vigorous anticorruption legislation. As a reaction, President Zelensky attempted to dissolve the Court, though this did not actually take place. Instead, parliament passed new weakened legislation, replacing the annulled anticorruption measures. In July 2021, it also backed legislation to relaunch the deeply compromised High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ) and the High Council of Justice (HCJ). Since then both Ukrainian and independent international experts would participate in the future selection process for judicial vacancies. However, the judiciary opposed the reforms. The refusal to comply threatens to derail the promise of real judicial reform in Ukraine.

Regarding media, Ukraine has a mixed landscape. While there is a law on media ownership transparency, the media landscape is under the strong influence of oligarchs, limiting diversity and giving the oligarchs political influence. The overall media landscape therefore lacks objectivity and is “divided along political lines”, concentrated in the hands of a few owners. Furthermore, attacks against journalists and civil society activists are prevalent, while police response is often inadequate.

Human Rights and Gender Equality

Human rights in Ukraine continue to be affected by the armed conflict in the east and the COVID-19 pandemic. The conflict not only threatens civilian’s physical safety, but also limits their access to food, medicines, adequate housing, and schools. Travel restrictions, imposed by both the Russia-backed armed groups and the Ukrainian government, have had a devastating impact on social and economic rights, driving civilians deeper into poverty. Women are particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as they account for over 80% of Ukraine’s healthcare and social workers, and domestic violence cases have increased.

Other than the effects of COVID-19. Gender inequality in Ukraine also takes other forms. Gender inequality is prevalent in political participation (women hold 21% of the seats in parliament), participation in managerial positions (23% of the management positions are held by women), and the gender pay gap (women earn on average 23% less than men). According to Freedom House, rights groups have reported that employers openly discriminate on the basis of gender and age.

According to the law, minorities such as Roma and LGBT+ people are officially protected in Ukraine, though violence against these groups continues to be a major problem. Anti-LGBT+ attacks remain prevalent, and perpetrators almost always get away with it. Both Roma and LGBT+ people and groups generally only receive police protection or justice for attacks against them when there is intense pressure from civil society or international actors. In these cases, human rights are still under pressure.

2 Elections

Parliamentary elections

On May 20th 2019, the day of his inauguration, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced his intention to dissolve parliament and call early elections. On that day the presidential decree set the elections for July 21, 2019, and Zelensky dissolved parliament because the current coalition didn’t have the support of the majority of the parliament. 62 MPs filed a constitutional challenge against the decree, but the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of early elections on the 20th of June. After the election results were published, it became clear that the president’s party, Servant of the People, won a majority. The party won 254 seats out of 424, thereby enabling it to form a government without a coalition. For the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, one party could control the cabinet of ministers, the office of the president and parliament on its own. Many consider the victory of Zelensky to be the result of disappointment in the previous government and the continuous power of oligarchs in Ukrainian society.

The OSCE reported that during the campaigning period contestants were able to freely convey their messages to the electorate. The campaign was seen as competitive with a huge amount of candidates representing a wide spectrum of political options. Despite this, vote-buying remained widespread in many regions of the country, especially in single-vote mandate districts. The National police initiated over 125 criminal investigations concerning vote-buying. On top of that, several incumbent MPs and mayors, who stood as candidates, often misused their incumbency by promising and providing benefits to voters.

Election results 2019
Due to the war in eastern Ukraine elections couldn’t be held in 26 different constituencies, and as a result, 26 out of 450 seats were left vacant. With all votes counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC) showed five parties passing the 5 per cent threshold, thus entering the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada). Voter turnout was historically low with only 49.9 per cent of the population casting their vote.

Party Seats party lists* Seats constituencies** Total %
Servant of the People  124   130 254  43.16 %
Opposition Platform — For Life  37   6  43 13,05 %
Fatherland  24   2  26 8,08 %
European Solidarity  23   2  25  8,10 %
Holos (Voice)  17   3  20  5,84 %
Opposition Bloc  –   6  6  3,03 %
All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda”  –  1  1  2,15 %
Self Reliance  –  1  1  0,62 %
United centre  –  1  1  –
Bila Tserkva Together  –  1  1  –
Independent single constituencies  – 46  46  10,85

Proportional lists
** Single-mandate constituencies

The elections resulted in a major win for Zelensky’s Servant of the People, along with which three new political parties entered the Rada, namely Opposition Platform – For Life, European Solidarity and Holos (Voice). Opposition Platform consists of former members from its predecessor For Life, Opposition Bloc Ukraine Forward! and Ukrainian Choice. The party is openly pro-Russian and anti-EU. European Solidarity is essentially a rebranding of “Poroshenko Bloc” and aims to continue Porsohenko’s political agenda. Holos is founded by singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, who presents himself as anti-establishment and is considered to be a Liberal, pro-EU and pro-NATO. Thanks to Servant of the People and Holos, 80 percent of MPs are newcomers. Furthermore, the average age of MPs has gone down from 48 to 41 years compared to the previous parliament. A record number of 87 women entered the Rada as a result of the elections, making up 19.3 per cent of the total number of deputies. This is a significant increase from 2014 when 11.1 per cent of the parliament was made up of women.

Presidential elections

On 21 April 2019 the presidential runoff was won by comedian and frontrunner Volodymyr Zelensky. He defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with 73 percent of the votes. Poroshenko got 25 percent of the votes. The turnout of the votes was just over 62 percent. On 31 March 2019, the first round of presidential elections was held in Ukraine. Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky then already enjoyed the majority, namely 30.23 percent, of the votes. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was second with 15.95 percent, followed by Bativshchyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko with 13.38 percent.

Frontrunner Zelensky, 41 years old, is best known for his role in the political comedy series Servant of the People where he plays a teacher that becomes president of Ukraine through some extraordinary circumstances and proceeds to fight corruption and shake up the political system. During his anti-establishment campaign, he mocked his political rivals with jokes, sketches and other performances. Zelensky promised that, if elected, he will fight against corruption and for reforms. Moreover, he promised to address and implement peace talks for eastern Ukraine. He also wanted to implement a new law on ‘People’s Rule’ to establish referendums where Ukrainians could express their expectations for the authorities. More than 35 million people were eligible to vote in the first round.

Election results




Second round





Volodymyr Zelensky Servant of the People 5,714,034 30.24 13,541,528 73.22
Petro Poroshenko Independent 3,014,609 15.95 4,522,320 24.45
Yulia Tymoshenko Fatherland 2,532,452 13.40
Yuriy Boyko Independent 2,206,216 11.67
Anatoliy Hrytsenko Civil Position 1,306,450 6.91
Ihor Smeshko Independent 1,141,332 6.04
Oleh Lyashko Radical Party 1,036,003 5.48
Oleksandr Vilkul Opposition Bloc 784,274 4.15
Ruslan Koshulynskyi Svoboda 307,244 1.62
Yuri Tymoshenko Independent 117,693 0.62


3 Political Parties

Social Democratic Parties

No data was found

Other Parties

Servant of the People
Party Leader: Olena Shuliak
Number of seats: 235
European Solidarity
Party Leader: Petro Poroshenko
Number of seats: 27
Batkivshchyna (All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" (incl. United Opposition)
Party Leader: Yulia Tymoshenko
Number of seats: 24
Platform for Life and Peace
Party Leader: Yuriy Boyko
Number of seats: 22
Holos (Voice)
Party Leader: Kira Rudyk
Number of seats: 20
For the Future (ZM)
Party Leader: Ihor Palytsia
Number of seats: 17
Party Leader: Oleh Kulinich
Number of seats: 18
Restoration of Ukraine (VU)
Party Leader: Maxim Efimov
Number of seats: 17

4 Biographies

Volodymyr Zelensky
President of Ukraine
Denys Shmyhal
Prime Minister
Petro Poroshenko
Former President and Leader of "European Solidarity"
Oleksiy Honcharuk
Former Prime Minister
Yulia Tymoshenko
Leader of Batkivshchyna (All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland")
Vitaly Klitschko
Mayor of Kiev
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