Ukraine | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Ukraine received a downward trend arrow due to the inability of the legislative and executive branches of government to represent the interests of voters, the persistence of conditions that threaten the media's independence, and the failure of the rule of law to protect individuals from politically or economically motivated threats, attacks, or imprisonment.


Although Ukraine commemorated a decade of post-Soviet independence in 2001, more than three-quarters of the country's population believed nothing good had come of it. Less than a quarter of the population considers the country a democracy. In the first half of the year, thousands of Ukrainians protested the ouster of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. They also demanded the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma, who has been accused of involvement in the murder in 2000 of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The president worried publicly that the outcry could lead to the "collapse of Ukraine." Also marking the year were a historic visit to the country by Pope John Paul II; President Kuchma's announcement that he will not seek a third term; the Constitutional Court's ruling against Ukraine's long-standing propiska (residency permit) requirement; and the signing into law of a new code that will allow the purchase and sale of land beginning in 2005.

In December 1991, Ukraine ended more than 300 years of Russian ascendancy when voters ratified a declaration of independence and elected Leonid Kravchuk president. In 1994, Communists proved victorious in parliamentary elections, and Leonid Kuchma, a former Soviet director of military production, defeated Kravchuk. Since then, Kuchma has struggled against a Communist-led parliament to effect reforms.

In the 1999 presidential election, Kuchma defeated Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko in the second round of voting with 56.21 percent of the vote. Symonenko received only 37.5 percent. Kuchma appointed reformer Viktor Yushchenko, a former head of the Central Bank, to the post of prime minister. He also threatened to dissolve parliament if it refused to support economic reforms.

For much of 2000, the legislative and executive branches of government were deadlocked. When Kuchma called a national referendum on constitutional amendments to increase his powers at parliament's expense, voters overwhelming sided with him. Their support remained firm until November, when audiotapes surfaced that, if authenticated, could implicate Kuchma and other senior government officials in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Soon after, thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand a "Ukraine without Kuchma." Demonstrations, ranging in size from a few dozen to several thousand participants, continued well into 2001.

Throughout 2001, President Kuchma denied involvement in the Gongadze murder. Although he has acknowledged that the voice on the tapes is his, he contends that the tapes were edited to create the appearance of guilt. Independent efforts to authenticate the tapes have been inconclusive. In February, prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the case. In May, the interior minister outraged opposition groups when he announced that Gongadze's death was the result of a random crime and "not of a political nature."

In the same month, the Communist Party rallied support in parliament for a noconfidence vote against Prime Minister Yushchenko. In a strange alliance, centrist parties that have close ties to powerful business interests and the executive administration joined the Communists in ousting Yushchenko. The Communists opposed the prime minister's reformist economic agenda; the centrist parties' oligarchical backers were threatened by the prime minister's anticorruption agenda.

Thousands of Yushchenko's supporters organized rallies to protest the decision and renewed calls for President Kuchma's impeachment. Although the president publicly opposed the no-confidence vote, there was intense speculation that he indeed was involved in Yushchenko's ouster. International lenders reacted by suspending millions of dollars in loans. Parliament replaced Yushchenko with Anatoly Kinakh, a member of the pro-Kuchma National Democratic Party and a former deputy prime minister. Kinakh is said to be independent of the oligarchs, but observers still expect him to follow an agenda that favors big business.

In July, Yushchenko formed an electoral bloc called "Our Ukraine" and announced his intention to participate in the 2002 parliamentary election. He promised to focus on issues of corruption, poverty, and economic reform. Likewise, ousted Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko became the head of the Forum for National Salvation, an alliance of center-right, anti-Kuchma parties. Police detained Tymoshenko twice in 2001 on charges of corruption during her tenure in the late 1990s at Unified Energy Systems, but two courts--a district court and then the supreme court--ordered her release. Her supporters decried the arrests as politically motivated. In November, the National Salvation Forum was renamed the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Ukrainian voters can change their government democratically. Citizens aged 18 and older enjoy universal, equal, and direct suffrage. They elect the president and delegates to the Verkhovna Rada, the 450-seat unicameral parliament. The president appoints the prime minister and other cabinet members. The next parliamentary and presidential elections will take place in 2002. By law, parliament must amend the constitution to reflect the outcome of the 2000 referendum on increasing the president's powers. To date, it has failed to do so.

The 1997 parliamentary election law outlines a system of proportional-majoritarian representation. In 2001, parliament passed, and the president vetoed, three new parliamentary election laws. Members of parliament advocated a proportional party-list system, but Kuchma argued that such a system would "run counter to the Constitution" and restrict the rights of voters. One draft, for example, called for the election of 75 percent of all parliamentary deputies by party lists and 25 percent in single-mandate constituencies. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that elections to the Verkhovna Rada in 1998 were generally free and fair, but it noted serious irregularities.

The International Foundation for Election Systems concluded that the 1999 presidential election law lends greater transparency and accountability to the process. Nevertheless, observers declared the November 1999 election unfair because of intimidation of independent media, biased coverage by state media, intimidation of candidates and their supporters, and illegal campaigning by state officials. Nineteen candidates successfully registered for the election.

The 1996 constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and expression, but the government frequently disregards these rights, particularly during election seasons. In 2001, organizations such as Reporters Sans Frontieres and the Committee to Protect Journalists brought attention to the murder of journalists like Oleh Breus, the publisher of the newspaper XXI Century, and Ihor Aleksandrov, the director of TOR Slavonic Television. Several attacks and death threats against journalists, as well as the conviction of journalist Oleg Liachko for defaming a former prime minister and a military general, were also documented. President Leonid Kuchma called for a full and transparent investigation of Ihor Aleksandrov's murder and asked the government to establish a law enforcement hotline for journalists to contact when their lives are threatened. He also asked for a review of the law on mass media and any relevant presidential decrees.

In July 2001, the Verkhovna Rada adopted legislation containing controversial amendments to more than ten mass-media laws, but President Kuchma vetoed the omnibus law. In December, Kuchma also vetoed a bill that would have made television debates mandatory during national elections campaigns. If approved, the bill would have required presidential and parliamentary candidates to attend such debates or risk being removed from the ballot. Television stations that failed to host debates could have lost their broadcast licenses. Under a criminal law that took effect on September 1, 2001, libel does not carry criminal charges. Also in 2001, the government announced that it would explore turning the Ukrainian National Television Company into a public service company.

The constitution and the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religion define religious rights in Ukraine. There are some restrictions on the activities of foreign religious organizations, and all religious groups must register with the state. Sixty-six percent of respondents to an August 2000 survey conducted by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies said that there is "complete freedom of conscience and equality of faiths before the law" in Ukraine. More than 50 percent of respondents who described themselves as "believers" agreed that religion is "one of the elements of a democratic society."

In June 2001, Pope John Paul II made a historic trip to Ukraine to celebrate the post-Soviet rebirth of the Greek Catholic Church and to seek reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. The schism between the two churches began in 1054. Although Orthodox leaders opposed the visit and even prayed for the pope to stay away from sacred church sites, tens of thousands of Ukrainians turned out to greet the pontiff. Among his stops during the five-day visit was Babi Yar, where the Nazis killed more than 200,000 people, including 100,000 Jews, during World War II.

Despite strict registration requirements, Ukraine has several thousand nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly but requires advance notification to government authorities. In 2001, thousands of protesters marched against President Kuchma's alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Early in the year, authorities broke up a tent city that more than 100 demonstrators had occupied since December 2000. When one rally involving an estimated 18,000 people turned violent, police arrested more than 200 participants. Hardline nationalists and Communists also organized rallies in 2001. In Donetsk, for example, thousands of mainly elderly Communists demonstrated against the executive leadership's reformist agenda and called for closer ties with Russia. Late in the year, a group of NGOs and government officials established a national anticorruption forum.

The judiciary consists of a supreme court, regional courts, and district courts. There is also a constitutional court. The constitution guarantees equality before the law, although the president, members of parliament, and judges are immune from criminal prosecution unless parliament consents. The judiciary is inefficient and subject to corruption. In 2001, for example, the prosecutor-general's office opened a criminal case against Mykola Zamkovenko, one of the judges who ordered the release from prison of former Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Zamkovenko concluded that the case and subsequent raids on his home and office were politically motivated and threatened judicial independence. The constitutional court is largely free of political interference.

The government generally respects personal autonomy and privacy. The constitution also guarantees individuals the right to own property, to work, and to engage in entrepreneurial activity; however, crime, corruption, and the slow pace of economic reform have effectively limited these rights. In 2001, the Constitutional Court struck down the country's Soviet-era requirement that individuals must register with the Interior Ministry in their place of residence. Opponents of the provision had long argued that the regulation violated freedom of movement.