A day after the Ukrainian parliament voted to introduce martial law across 10 border regions, there was little clarity about what it would actually mean in practice.
With parts of the government on different pages, and the introduction of measures that could cover most aspects of life, even family, some areas of the country bordered on panic mode.
In the southern city of Odessa, there were rumours of forced mobilisation, though these turned out to be false. In other cities across the region, shortages of foreign currency were reported.
The text of the law eventually voted on was considerably watered down from the edict originally presented by President Petro Poroshenko on Monday afternoon. That contained provisions for a state of martial law lasting 60 days across the whole country. By logical extension, that would have meant delaying next March’s presidential elections, a point that caused uproar among the opposition.
The eventual compromise saw a commitment to fix the date of the elections, the duration reduced to 30 days, and the zone of coverage reduced to 10 border regions. The Independent understands that these concessions were made only at the last moment, and the vote would not have passed without them.
There was considerable confusion as to when martial law would even begin, the catalyst for which was an incident in the Azov sea on Sunday, when Russia opened fire and seized three Ukrainian vessels, which were sailing in shared waters. Russia has now formally begun charging some of the sailors it has detained.
In the text agreed by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, the state of martial law was due to start on Wednesday morning at 9am local time. But on Tuesday morning, the secretary of the national security council, Oleksandr Turchynov, said that a state of martial law was already in effect.
To make matters even more complicated, the Government Courier, the state newspaper where all laws are published, printed a version of the original law, including provisions for 60 days of restrictions across all of Ukraine.
Late on Tuesday evening, parliamentary speaker Andrei Paruby adopted a position apparently contrary to the national security council by insisting the law had no effect until he had signed it. That would happen, he said, “at some point tomorrow”.
Oleksiy Ryabchyn, a high ranking deputy in the Fatherland faction, headed by presidential frontrunner Yulia Tymoshenko, said that the confusion was a natural consequence of a poorly drafted law that the president had attempted to drive through parliament.
Petro Poroshenko had insisted on his version of martial law without even consulting with party leaders, said Mr Ryabchyn. Party leaders found out about shifts in the president’s position “either via press conferences or new edits of his speech” that appeared in the autocue in parliament.
“Our party does not agree with Poroshenko on everything, but on this issue we were prepared to show unity in the national interest,” said Mr Ryabchyn. “He refused to listen to us, so parliament had to show its will and demand a compromise that came. In the end, it was a victory for parliamentary democracy”
Those compromises represented a face-saving exercise that seemed to leave a “pointless” law, suggested another deputy, Sergii Leschenko.
But in the 10 border regions at least, the law potentially has a very wide scope.
The presidential amendments introduce few restrictions on the overarching 2015 legislation covering martial law. In other words, it allows for extrajudicial searches of property, travel bans, closing media deemed against national interests, bans on rallies and demonstrations, limitations on private correspondence and communications, and even introducing limitations on education, private and family life.
Mr Ryabchyn said opposition parties asked for clarity about why such “extreme” limitations were needed, but Mr Poroshenko “refused to meet with any of our representatives”.
“All throughout the parliamentary session people I knew – politicians, journalists, friends, bankers – were calling me, asking me what to do, and I simply could not tell them. None of us has concrete information to pass on.”
Reports of several dozen Russians being turned away from Kiev airports on Monday evening seemed to suggest that that border control had already begun working under the auspices of the new law.
Unsurprisingly, the informational vacuum surrounding the new measures has also begun to be filled with scare stories.
In Odessa, there were reports of young men being mobilised directly in the city’s railway station. These reports eventually turned out to be fake, but they had added to a general sense of panic, local journalist Iryna Kiporenko told The Independent.
“We are already seeing some changes in increased security around the ports and station,” she said. “Police are telling us they will introduce additional measures at the first sight of Russian provocation.”
In written comments to The Independent, a press secretary for the national security council refrained from offering any concrete examples of how the new law would affect ordinary citizens. The measures were, she said, “a legal mechanism allowing Ukraine to react expediently … in the event of open aggression from Russia”.
“Be prepared,” the spokesperson added in English.