Martial Law in Ukraine: Not What You Think It Is

Rather than a tool to subjugate and control the people (as many in the West imagine it) martial law in Ukraine is intended to open up resources and ways to protect the people.

What is considered chaos to the fly is normal to the spider.” Morticia Adams

For many in the West, ‘martial law’ conjures up images of dictators and troops strutting down city streets in fatigues. But for a country fighting a defensive war against the world’s second most powerful military, martial law is not an extreme measure.”

John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, former US ambassador to Ukraine.

Last month the world was shocked by the the unprovoked aggression by Russia against Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. Well actually, no, the world wasn’t shocked. And sadly, nor should they be. Ukraine has been defending its sovereignty against Russia in a “hybrid war” that has been active for nearly 5 years now. It is a war that has been largely forgotten by the rest of the world.

But now that we all have been sharply reminded of Russia’s ongoing assaults against Ukraine, surprisingly it was President Poroshenko’s decision to declare martial law that has garnered most of the world’s attention.

So what is the bottom line?


  • Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe; twice the size of the UK, roughly the size of Texas.
  • The capital of Kyiv – the most popular tourist destination and the seat of government and business – is nearly 1,000 kilometers away (14 hours by car, for Americans) from the Kerch Strait.
  • The duration of martial law was reduced to only one month, (at this point that is already over).
  • Martial law was enacted in only 10 oblasts (provinces), not the whole country, and primarily those along sensitive borders. Kyiv and its surrounding oblasts were not included.
  • Understandably, there is a ban on Russia citizens of a certain category. Since the beginning of martial law approximately 150 foreigners total (including Russians) have been restricted from entering the country. Similarly, in the US (not under martial law), the current administration has banned an estimated 5 times more foreigners at their borders.

What does this mean for you personally?

Probably nothing. Seriously. Martial law is an extreme step and does have far reaching consequences on many levels, but most of all it allows the government to more offensively prepare itself for the possibility of a full attack. But rather than a tool to subjugate and control the people (as many in the West imagine it) martial law in Ukraine is intended to open up resources and ways to protect the people.

If you have plans to travel, to invest, to live in Ukraine – I wouldn’t change them now. Why? Not because nothing has changed; but rather because Ukraine is always changing. Like the spider vs fly “world view”, Ukraine is all about perspective and expectation. Ukraine is sort of like bronco riding. Its not predictable, unless of course you’ve already been on a few rides and have been bucked off a few times. Then not much surprises you. Ukraine is not for the faint of heart, but neither is it boring or without great rewards to those willing to open the chute, hold on and enjoy the ride.

For expats living in Ukraine this attack by Russia is “not our first rodeo”. Thankfully, some of the world is beginning to join us in the ring. The G7 leaders (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US, and the head of the EU) responded by reiterating the fact that “there is no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel.” and called on Russia to release the imprisoned crew and vessels and stop blocking Ukraine’s lawful passage through the Kerch Strait. Annnnd….that began to be realized on Tuesday, only two days after it was initially illegally blocked by Russian ships. And so it goes. Up and down.

So you get back on the horse. Or you keep riding even when it gets a little crazy, a little scary. Because its not a walk in the park, it is not a sleepy town in America’s midwest. Ukraine is still a developing nation. But the panic over Ukraine understandably declaring martial law in the face of flagrant aggression by Russia is, as John Herbst of the Atlantic Council inferred, a gross confusion of what is the real problem. “Such assessments are craven. And they rely on the notion that the key issue in Eastern Europe is not Russian revisionism, but Ukraine’s internal inadequacies. At this perilous moment, it is essential for all interested in stability in Europe to understand this geopolitical reality and to make it an embarrassment to utter such nonsense in public.”

So, be a spider, not a fly. Don’t get caught in the web of media propaganda and fear regarding martial law or other issues involving Ukraine. Get the facts. Get to the bottom line.