Photo credit: Brandon Hartwig, freelance photographer
I walked into work early Monday morning and asked a co-worker how his weekend was, oblivious to the fact that at least half of Ukraine barely slept the previous night. He looked at me a little oddly, responded quickly, and then asked about my weekend. I gave him a detailed, chipper account of what I did on Saturday and Sunday, only to be met with a response something along the lines of, “Oh, I see you’re maybe trying to raise our morale by being so positive.” That was when I knew I was somehow in trouble; my smile quickly froze.
Somewhere in between a long workout at my fitness club, a relaxing visit to the sauna, writing Christmas cards to send to family back home, trying out new restaurants, and a cozy night in with my roommates watching The Big Lebowski, I forgot to check the news on the weekend’s developments in the Kerch Strait. I was aware that Russia had engaged in questionable firing, but I let myself get too comfortable throughout the day and missed that the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council recommended the Ukrainian President invoke Martial law (allowing direct military control of civilian functions) for 60 days. Although President Poroshenko stated that invoking the law will not limit Ukrainians’ rights and freedoms, nor result in offensive operations by Ukrainian armed forces, that was not how my Ukrainian co-worker had interpreted it – and likely not how many other Ukrainians did either. For this very reason, he and the others did not sleep.
Surely enough, about half an hour after our conversation, during which he filled me in on all the details and shared his worst fears (a curfew, influx of military personnel on the streets, the seizing of land for military use, etc.), the UN Department of Security and Safety (UNDSS) sent out an advisory email to all UN staff in Ukraine, confirming the graveness of the situation. For the next 8 hours we sat waiting to hear the results of the 4 o’clock vote by Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament; for the next 8 hours we waited to see if his fears would be coming to life.
I did not take for granted any of the feelings that my co-worker shared. He had participated in the 2014 revolution, protesting at Independence Square for a whole month while still being a student, so when he remarked that this situation could turn out to be worse than it was prior to the revolutions 4 years ago, I knew he meant it. It would be naïve to wholeheartedly believe Poroshenko when he essentially stated that things would continue “business as usual”.
The events of that day got me thinking about what this would mean for the upcoming elections in Ukraine in March of 2019. The society as a whole, and especially the UNDP, have been working very hard to prepare the population for a more informed vote. This past month, and continuing into December, I have been lucky to take on the role of a journalist for UNDP’s Governance department and interview NGOs whose projects on anti-corruption the UNDP helped fund, and then making them available online for others to be inspired to start more anti-corruption initiatives. It would be a shame to see the election preparation efforts go to waste, should Martial law somehow jeopardize the election.
And slowly but surely 4 o’clock came… then 5 o’clock…6 o’clock…and not until around 9pm did we hear that the vote was passed. In many respects, for the locals it was like a flashback to the events of 2014, and their impressions were contagious.
The next morning, I asked the same colleague how he felt about the outcome of the vote. This time, his response was more critical than worrisome. He felt (and this is in no way reflective of the UNDP or its staff) that there was a hidden political agenda behind the Kerch Strait incident; knowing that the Russians would likely react the way they did, the Ukrainian government devised the plan and sent in the naval ships to create more unity in Ukraine against a foreign enemy – and right before elections, in the hopes of this benefiting the President’s campaign. I shared with him the political theory concept of Metus Hostilis, also known as the creation of an external enemy to instill political unity within a nation, which seemed to really resonate with him.
And so now, even though Kyiv is not ‘directly’ affected by the declaration of the Martial law, the effects of it, I’m sure, will be felt here as well. Everyone awaits with anticipation the unfolding of events in the next 30 days.