Ukraine

Partly Free
61
100
PR Political Rights 26 40
CL Civil Liberties 35 60
Last Year's Score & Status
60 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Note

The numerical scores and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Crimea and Eastern Donbas, which are examined in separate reports. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.

header2 Overview

Ukraine has enacted a number of positive reforms since the protest-driven ouster of then president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. However, corruption remains endemic, and the government’s initiatives to combat it have met resistance and experienced setbacks. Attacks against journalists, civil society activists, and members of minority groups are frequent, and police responses are often inadequate. Russia occupies the autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and its military supports armed separatists in the eastern Donbas area.

header3 Key Developments in 2021

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy targeted several television stations aligned with pro-Russia politician and businessman Viktor Medvedchuk during the year. In February, Zelenskyy signed an order blocking the broadcasts of NewsOne, ZIK, and 112, while First Independent and UkrLive were similarly targeted by the government in late December.
  • President Zelenskyy continued in his efforts to remove Constitutional Court Chief Justice Oleksandr Tupytsky, who had been implicated in corruption, during the year. In March, Zelenskyy signed a decree dismissing him and another Constitutional Court member, which was overturned by the Supreme Court in July. The president then attempted to appoint two new Constitutional Court members in late November, but the court declined to swear them in.
  • In February, former PrivatBank executive Volodymyr Yatsenko was arrested on embezzlement charges, while former board chairman Oleksandr Dubilet was arrested in absentia in June. Anticorruption investigators suspected that Dubilet perpetrated the disappearance of PrivatBank funds before it was nationalized in 2016.
  • Zelenskyy and two close associates were implicated in offshore financial activity in October with the release of the Pandora Papers, a cache of documents revealing the offshore activities of political leaders and other prominent individuals worldwide. That month, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported that Zelenskyy formed offshore companies before becoming president but continued to profit from them after taking office. The president denied involvement in money laundering later that month.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The president is directly elected for a maximum of two five-year terms. In the 2019 election, held in two rounds in March and April, Volodymyr Zelenskyy defeated incumbent president Petro Poroshenko with 73.2 percent of the second-round vote, winning a majority of votes in all but one Ukrainian region. International observers deemed the vote competitive and credible, although polling could not take place in Crimea and separatist-held parts of Donbas.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

The 450 members of the unicameral Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada) are elected to five-year terms through a mixed system in which half of the members are chosen by closed-list proportional representation and the other half in single-member districts. Future elections will be held under a new system approved in December 2019.

In early elections held in July 2019, President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party won 254 seats, giving them an outright majority—the first time any party crossed that threshold since independence. The Poroshenko bloc, which had rebranded as European Solidarity, took 25 seats. The Opposition Platform–For Life grouping took 43 seats, Fatherland 26, and the Voice Party 20.

The elections were deemed generally competitive and credible, despite some problems. Voting was impossible in Crimea and separatist-held parts of Donbas. Consequently, the elections filled only 424 of the 450 seats. Additionally, approximately one million Ukrainian citizens were unable to vote because for lack of a registered address. An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring mission cited irregularities including “widespread vote-buying, misuse of incumbency, and the practice of exploiting all possible legislative loopholes” that contributed to inequalities among competitors.

In October 2020, Ukraine held its first local elections under electoral reforms and revisions passed in 2019. A plurality of elected local councilors nationwide were independent candidates. Servant of the People was largely unsuccessful when contesting the mayoralties of larger cities, though it maintained representation on most city councils. Despite the Central Election Commission’s (TVK) generally timely and professional administration of the election during the COVID-19 pandemic, OSCE observers expressed concern about the often-politicized work of territorial commissions, widespread vote-buying allegations, and abuse of state resources, among other issues.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2.002 4.004

The mixed electoral system for the parliament that has governed past polls, including those in 2019, has been criticized as prone to manipulation and vote-buying. President Zelenskyy attempted to introduce an entirely party list–based system prior to the 2019 parliamentary election but could not garner enough parliamentary support. That December, the new parliament adopted an electoral code that partially implemented a proportional-representation voting system, with open party lists for both parliamentary and local elections. Zelenskyy enacted it at that year’s end.

Local elections were held under the new code, which was modified several times in 2020, that October. The TVK decided not to conduct local elections in 18 communities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, located close to the contact line with noncontrolled territories. The decision affected 475,000 voters, who continued to be governed by military-civil administrations, which are appointed directly by the president. In December 2021, the TVK began discussions with the Donetsk and Luhansk military-civil administrations on the possibility of holding elections there in March 2022.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3.003 4.004

With the exception of a ban on the Communist Party, there are no formal barriers to the creation and operation of political parties. In November 2021, for example, Dmytro Razumkov announced the formation of the Smart Politics party after parliamentarians had removed him as speaker. Also in November, Razumkov announced that 24 parliamentarians joined Smart Politics, 21 of them members of Servant of the People.

A law that took effect in 2016 provides parliamentary parties with state funding, but effectively favors established groups. Under that law, parties must win at least 5 percent of votes to receive funding.

Party financing in Ukraine remains opaque, despite robust laws to regulate it. In September 2021, the parliament passed a law banning politically connected business magnates, known as oligarchs, from funding political parties. President Zelenskyy signed it into law in November.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Ukrainian politics feature dynamic competition among parties. Opposition groups are represented in the parliament, and their political activities are generally not impeded by administrative restrictions or legal harassment. Generally, grassroots parties have difficulty competing with more established parties that have enjoyed the support and financial backing of oligarchs.

In the second election round held in April 2019, Zelenskyy won the presidency by a large margin, defeating then incumbent president Poroshenko. In the July 2019 elections, Servant of the People took an absolute majority of parliamentary seats, defeating the incumbent European Solidarity group.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 2.002 4.004

Russian influence in Ukraine declined in the years after Yanukovych’s ouster, though Moscow continues to wield influence in some eastern and southern regions.

Oligarchs exert significant influence over politics either directly or indirectly, including through financial support for various political parties and lobbying for the appointment of loyalists to key institutional positions. However, individuals defined as oligarchs under legislation signed into law in November 2021 were prohibited from funding political parties.

Although electoral laws forbid the use of public resources in election campaigns, incumbent officials have used administrative resources during the local election campaign, while law enforcement turned a blind eye to the practice.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

There are no formal restrictions on the participation of women and members of ethnic, racial, or other minority groups in political life. However, their voting and representation are hindered by factors including discrimination that discourages political participation, the conflict in the east, and the lack of identity documents for many Roma. Internally displaced persons (IDPs), who number 1.5 million, face legal and practical barriers to voting. Independent candidates cannot run for local council positions in towns with over 10,000 inhabitants. Societal discrimination against LGBT+ people affects their ability to engage in political and electoral processes.

A record 87 women were elected to the parliament in 2019, though this amounted to only 20 percent of all seats. Local elections held in October 2020 were the first to be held with a mandatory 30 percent party-list gender quota, though some local lists did not comply with that requirement. Female representation in city councils stood at 30.2 percent after those elections, an improvement over the 18.1 percent figure in their previous terms. Female regional council representation, meanwhile, increased from 15 percent to 27 percent.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

Elected officials craft and implement reforms, though many initiatives stall due to opposition from powerful business groups and other special interests. The main obstacle to effective governance in government-controlled parts of Ukraine is corruption.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption remains a serious problem, and the political will to fight it is eroding despite strong pressure from civil society. Anticorruption agencies have repeatedly been ensnared in politically fraught conflicts with other state entities and elected officials. In a ruling published in October 2020, the Constitutional Court restricted many of the powers held by the National Agency on Corruption Prevention, restricting its ability to function.

The Ukrainian anticorruption framework faced continued obstacles in 2021. In late December, the Kyiv District Administrative Court ended a competitive process to select the head of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. A day after the court’s ruling, a committee evaluating candidates reported that anticorruption official Oleksandr Klymenko scored its highest rating, but he did not assume that post by year’s end.

Major corruption cases nevertheless continued during 2021. In February, Volodymyr Yatsenko, a former PrivatBank deputy chief executive, was arrested and charged with embezzlement while trying to leave Ukraine. Former board chairman Oleksandr Dubilet was placed on a wanted list in March and was arrested in absentia in June. Kyiv nationalized PrivatBank, then owned by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, in 2016 over capital shortfalls; anticorruption investigators claimed that $315 million in funds had gone missing from PrivatBank soon before its nationalization, allegedly at Dubilet’s instruction. The PrivatBank investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

President Zelenskyy was implicated in profiting from offshore companies after the October 2021 release of the Pandora Papers, a large cache of documents revealing the offshore activity of leaders and other prominent individuals worldwide for purposes that may include tax evasion. That month, the OCCRP reported that Zelenskyy formed offshore companies before his election and continued to profit from them after taking office. Presidential aide Serhiy Shefir and Security Service of Ukraine head Ivan Bakanov, who were associates of the president since before his election, were reportedly involved in the offshore network. Zelenskyy denied that he or his associates engaged in money laundering that month.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

In previous years, Ukraine made some progress in advancing transparency, for example by requiring that banks publish the identity of their owners, and by passing a 2016 law obliging politicians and bureaucrats to file electronic declarations of their assets. However, in October 2020, the Constitutional Court annulled the asset-declaration law, as well as a law that dictates criminal punishments for falsified asset reporting. Law enforcement agencies were forced to close some corruption cases and remove the full database of official declarations from public access. Parliament reinstated a weakened version of the law that December.

Ukraine has made progress enhancing the accessibility of information about public procurements in recent years but failed to set up a centralized system for purchasing medical equipment—including vaccines—to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in a timely and transparent manner. COVID-19-related procurement processes have been susceptible to misuse. In April 2021, the State Audit Office reported that some procurements secured through a COVID-19 fund lacked needed documentation, while others were secured by ineligible bidders.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

The constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and expression, and libel is not a criminal offense. The media landscape features considerable pluralism and open criticism of the government and investigation of powerful figures. However, business magnates own and influence many outlets, using them as tools to advance their agendas. President Zelenskyy has previously received significant support from Kolomoisky-controlled media outlets. Other parties also receive favorable coverage from “friendly” media.

A number of Russian news outlets and their journalists are prohibited from entering the country. Various language laws require news outlets to produce certain content in the Ukrainian language.

The Zelenskyy administration targeted several news outlets operating in Ukraine over purported connections to Russia during 2021. In February, Zelenskyy signed an order effectively blocking the transmission of three television channels— NewsOne, ZIK, and 112—which are believed to be indirectly controlled by Viktor Medvedchuk, a leader of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform–For Life political group. The office of European Commission vice president Josep Borrell Fontelles voiced concern over the move later that month, calling for “proportional” decisions from Kyiv. In August, Zelenskyy banned news site Strana.ua; editor in chief Ihor Huzhva, who lives in exile in Austria after being sanctioned in 2018, was accused of disseminating “pro-Russian propaganda” by the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO). In late December, the president sanctioned Medvedchuk-aligned television channels First Independent and UkrLive, taking them off the air.

Journalists continued to face threats of violence and intimidation in 2021. In October, guards at the offices of the State Export-Import Bank of Ukraine (Ukreximbank) physically detained two journalists affiliated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) after they asked chief executive Yevhen Metzger about Ukreximbank’s lending activity. The National Police launched a criminal case later that month, while Metzger resigned from Ukreximbank.

In early October 2021, the independent Institute of Mass Information counted 139 freedom-of-speech violations against journalists during the year to date, including 73 obstruction cases, 17 physical attacks, 12 threats, 11 access-to-information restrictions, and 10 cybercrimes. Only seven court decisions on freedom-of-speech violations were recorded during the same period.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

The constitution and a 1991 law define religious rights in Ukraine, and these are generally respected. However, smaller religious groups continue to report some discrimination. Vandalism of Jewish structures and cemeteries continues. Acknowledging one’s atheism may result in discrimination.

In 2018, Ukrainian Orthodox clerics received permission from religious authorities in Istanbul, the historical seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church, to create their own autocephalous church and remove it from the Russian Orthodox Church’s canonical jurisdiction. A new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was formed that December to unite existing factions. While the Kremlin and church leaders in Moscow objected, tensions between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church have decreased in recent years.

In October 2021, President Zelenskyy signed a law that legally defines and combats antisemitism. The law also defines the destruction of buildings and monuments as antisemitic and prohibits denial of the Holocaust.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

A 2014 law dramatically reduced the government’s control over education and allowed universities much greater freedom in designing their own programs and managing their own finances. A law adopted in 2017 was designed to align the country’s education system with those in the European Union (EU), but it drew criticism for provisions that mandate the use of Ukrainian as the primary language of instruction in most publicly funded secondary schools by 2020, affecting numerous schools taught in minority languages.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Ukrainians generally enjoy open and free private discussion, although the polarizing effects of the conflict have weighed on political expression, especially relating to questions of individual and national identity. Heated exchanges in the media and instances of violence against those expressing views considered controversial are not uncommon, likely contributing to self-censorship among ordinary people.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3.003 4.004

The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly but requires organizers to give the authorities advance notice of demonstrations. Ukraine lacks a law governing the conduct of demonstrations and specifically providing for freedom of assembly.

Public gatherings and protests were commonly held during 2021, as COVID-19 restrictions were loosened during the year. However, COVID-19 measures did affect a January gathering in Kyiv marking the 2009 murders of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasiya Baburova. Participants, some of whom were forcibly placed onto a police bus and physically assaulted, were charged with violating pandemic restrictions.

Nationwide women’s rights rallies were held on March 8, International Women’s Day, but were also accompanied by counterprotests organized by Tradition and Order, a right-wing nationalist group. The March 8 events were largely peaceful, with marchers and counterprotesters kept separate by police. Several participants in the Kyiv march were injured by counterprotesters, however.

Several pride parades were held in 2021, though counterprotesters attempted to attack authorities and participants during some of the year’s events. An August pride parade in Odesa was marred by clashes between police and Tradition and Order members, who deployed tear gas against officers. Some 51 group members were detained, including the group’s Odesa chapter head, while 29 officers were injured. An attempt to interfere with a pride event in Kharkiv in September was stymied by the authorities. No incidents were reported during the September pride parade in Kyiv. This was a marked improvement over previous parades in the capital, where marchers and police officers were attacked by right-wing and nationalist assailants.

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the police were more effective in ensuring that public assemblies, including LGBT+ parades, proceeded with limited interference from counterprotesters during the year.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2.002 4.004

Numerous civic groups emerged or were reinvigorated following the departure of Yanukovych in 2014, and many can influence decision-making at various levels of government. The 2020 edition of the CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia reported that Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were among the most stable and effective in the region, though civil society was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, the Constitutional Court struck down a law that had required NGO leaders, staff, and contractors focused on corruption to submit asset and income declarations. However, NGOs are required to disclose their ultimate beneficiaries and ownership structure under money-laundering legislation. In October 2021, as the deadline for compliance approached, more than 200 NGOs claimed the law unjustly interfered with their work in an open letter. An amendment passed later that month extended the deadline to July 2022.

Civil society activists face intimidation and threats; law enforcement fails to bring all perpetrators to justice. In September 2021, the ZMINA Human Rights Centre recorded 88 incidents targeting activists in government-controlled territory during the first nine months of the year, an increase over the 77 incidents recorded during the same period in 2020.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Trade unions function in the country, but strikes and worker protests are infrequent, as the largest trade union, stemming from the Soviet-era labor federation, lacks independence from the government and employers. Factory owners still pressure their workers to vote according to the owners’ preferences.

In October 2021, Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine members rallied against planned changes to the labor code in Kyiv. While the rally blocked traffic, it was conducted peacefully.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Ukraine has long suffered from corrupt and politicized courts, and reform initiatives meant to address the issue have stalled or have fallen short of expectations.

In October 2020, President Zelenskyy unsuccessfully attempted to dissolve the Constitutional Court after it annulled anticorruption laws. That December, Zelenskyy issued a decree suspending Constitutional Court Chief Justice Oleksandr Tupytsky, who was being investigated for bribery and witness tampering. Zelenskyy attempted to dismiss him and another justice outright in March 2021. While the Supreme Court overturned the dismissal in July, Zelenskyy attempted to appoint two new judges to the Constitutional Court in late November. The court declined to swear the president’s appointees in.

In November 2021, President Zelenskyy announced the members of the Ethics Council, which is responsible for judicial integrity within the High Council of Justice. The Ethics Council was created via a judicial reform law passed by parliamentarians in July.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1.001 4.004

Although due process guarantees exist, in practice individuals with financial resources and political influence can escape prosecution for wrongdoing. According to the World Prison Brief, 36 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention as of October 2021. Judges have also stymied corruption investigations into high-profile officials, including within the judiciary.

In June 2020, the parliament adopted a law allowing prosecution of “thieves in law”—people who exert criminal influence and coordinate the criminal activities of others. In May 2021, the government identified and sanctioned 557 individuals as “thieves in law,” most of them residing outside Ukraine. In October, however, RNBO secretary Oleksiy Danilov reported that 108 people were wrongfully added to the list.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2.002 4.004

The security situation is generally stable outside of the occupied areas. However, the trafficking of weapons and ammunition from conflict zones has contributed to the proliferation of weapons throughout Ukraine. In March 2021, a parliamentary committee chairman warned that anywhere from 2 to 6 million unregistered weapons were present in Ukraine, compared to 1.2 million registered weapons.

Targeted assassinations and assassination attempts also occur, and perpetrators are known to escape justice. In August 2021, prominent Belarusian activist Vitaliy Shishov was found dead in a park in Kyiv. In late September, a car carrying presidential aide Serhiy Shefir was shot at near Kyiv, though he survived the incident.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

A 2012 law introduced a nonexclusive list of grounds on which discrimination is prohibited. Gender discrimination is explicitly banned under the constitution. However, these protections are inconsistently enforced. The Romany minority and LGBT+ people experience significant discrimination in practice. 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 observers. Rights groups have reported that employers openly discriminate on the basis of gender and age.

Women who left the military have more difficulty receiving pensions, as they were prohibited from combat duty until 2018. Women serving in the military also face discrimination while in uniform.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of movement is generally not restricted in areas under government control. However, Ukraine’s cumbersome system requiring individuals to be legally registered at an address in order to vote and receive other important services creates a barrier to full freedom of movement and employment. Movement restrictions in Ukraine due to the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the elderly, the poor, and families with children.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

The government has taken steps to scale back regulation of private businesses in recent years, though the business environment is affected by widespread corruption. A reform law allowing the sale of agricultural land went into effect in July 2021, ending a moratorium. Under the law, only individual Ukrainian citizens can currently buy and sell farmland; organizations will be able to acquire such land beginning in 2024, so long as their participating members are all Ukrainian citizens.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3.003 4.004

The government generally does not restrict personal social freedoms, though same-sex marriage remains unrecognized in Ukraine.

Domestic violence is widespread, and police responses to the few victims who report such abuse are inadequate. COVID-19 lockdowns led to a surge in domestic violence; the number of reported cases increased by 66 percent in 2020 through November when compared to 2019. In July 2021, President Zelenskyy signed a law allowing domestic abuse survivors to receive compensation while making it easier to prosecute security officers and other officials who are accused of domestic violence.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

The trafficking of women domestically and abroad for the purpose of prostitution continues. IDPs are especially vulnerable to exploitation for sex trafficking and forced labor.

Labor laws establish a minimum wage that meets the poverty level, as well as a 40-hour work week and workplace safety standards. However, workers at times go unpaid, and penalties for workplace safety violations are lenient.

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