Ukraine Government and Politics

State and politics

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The Independent Ukraine Constitution was adopted in June 1996. In 2004, an addition was made to the Constitution which, during President Viktor Yushchenko’s tenure in 2005–10, reduced the power of the Head of State in relation to Parliament. However, immediately after Yushchenko’s departure, the addition was rejected by the Constitutional Court and his successor Viktor Yanukovych regained the previous authorizations. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and other institutions strongly criticized the fact that a court was allowed to amend a constitution, especially so many years after it was decided. In February 2014, Parliament decided to approve the 2004 supplement again.

The president, who is also commander-in-chief, is elected by universal suffrage every five years and is allowed to sit for two terms in a row.

Since 2006, the single-chamber parliament (Verchovna Rada), which has 450 seats, has been elected for five years. Half of Parliament’s mandates are distributed proportionally between parties whose lists receive at least five percent of the vote. Other mandates accrue to candidates with or without party affiliation who are in one of the 225 one-man constituencies.

International commitments

At the end of 2015, despite Russian opposition, Ukraine managed to reach a settlement of debt amortization with most of its private creditors abroad. This has been crucial in preventing economic collapse during the so-called Donbass conflict, which began in 2014. Ukraine was one of the initiators of the Commonwealth of Independent States (US) but is not a full member.

The country is also a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace since 1994 and has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1995. Ukraine also belongs to the GUAM regional association since its founding in 1997. In June 2014, Ukraine and the EU signed an agreement on certain political and economic cooperation that entered into force 2016. Check Countryaah for other countries that start with U.


An immediate effect of the disintegration of the Soviet Union was that Ukraine took place in 1992 in the UN and other international organizations. The political scene, on the other hand, changed relatively little when Ukraine transitioned from being a sovereign state to a sovereign republic. Admittedly, the Soviet Communist Party had been banned in August 1991, but the parliament elected in 1990 under Soviet Union law remained until 1994, including the 74 percent of members elected to the Communists. In addition, the last Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Kravtjuk had been elected independent Ukraine’s first president in free elections in late 1991.

Among the several dozen parties that took part in the 1994 and 1998 parliamentary elections, the revived Communist Party (with the strongest position in eastern and southern Ukraine), along with a few other parties with roots in the Soviet Party (with main support in the country’s central parts) and the Ruch people, dominated (with voter base in the westernmost parts).

As a result of the economic crisis in the early 1990s, Kravtjuk failed to be re-elected as President and was replaced in 1994 by his Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma. During Kuchma’s time as president, the political and economic landscape underwent a radical change. When former state-owned companies were privatized, many of them were handed over to businessmen who, due to the political influence they also had, came to be called oligarchs. Through its control of the media and as financiers behind the three most influential parties until 2014, the oligarchs became a power factor in Ukrainian politics. One of these parties was the Region Party with Viktor Yanukovych as the figurehead and voter base in the country’s eastern and southern parts, anotherJulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland, which grew in the central parts, and the third Viktor Yushchenko Our Ukraine with roots in the far west.

The oligarchs used their influence over the policy to secure public contracts and influence the taxation of the companies they controlled. It was often the case that politically elected politicians switched parties in the middle of a term of office. The problem of corruption, as in many other former Soviet republics, became widespread.

After several years of decline, the economy began to slowly grow again during Kuchma’s last year as president. However, the dissatisfaction with the corruption and the fact that several journalists who reported being murdered or beaten led to growing criticism of him. The opposition culminated in the so-called Orange Revolution, which resulted in Yushchenko defeating Kuchma’s protector Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election.

After being eliminated in the first round of elections, Yulia Tymoshenko gave her support to Yushchenko against the promise of becoming his prime ministerial candidate if he defeated Yanukovych. The promise was kept but less than eight months after taking office, she was forced to leave the government after conflicts with both Yushchenko and businessman Petro Poroshenko, who at the time led the country’s Security Council. The power struggle between them helped make the country lack a firm economic policy.

This played Yanukovych in his hands and in the 2010 presidential election he took home the victory. Yanukovych rushed to strengthen his power in a number of areas. Prior to the 2012 parliamentary elections, his main political rival Tymoshenko was sentenced to a seven-year prison sentence for a trade agreement with the Russian Federation, which was deemed unfavorable; the judicial process was considered politically motivated by several EU countries and the US.

The weak international economy during Yanukovych’s time as president was exacerbated in Ukraine by the corrupt leadership’s mismanagement of economic policy. This triggered a series of dramatic events around the turn of the year 2013-14 that went to history as the Euromajdan. They ended with President Yanukovych fleeing to the Russian Federation, whose military at the same time annexed the Crimean peninsula and initiated an armed conflict in the Donbass region (see Donbass conflict). Shortly thereafter, in May 2014, an early presidential election was held. Although voters in the occupied regions were unable to participate, turnout was high (60 percent). Already after an election round, Petro Poroshenko, who received 55 percent, could be named victorious.

Despite some reforms and a few dozen representatives of civil society in Parliament that year, the influence of the oligarchs on politics has remained strong. At the same time, the ultra-nationalist and populist parties in Parliament, the Radical Party and Svoboda (‘Freedom’), were involved in armed incidents testifying to serious political contradictions.

After the 2014 parliamentary elections, only one of the parties that characterized Ukraine’s first two decades remained as an independent state, namely Julia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland. The largest parties with each more than 20 percent of the votes were Petro Poroshenko’s block and the newly formed People’s Front, led by former Prime Minister Arsenij Jatseniuk (born 1974), previously affiliated with Tymoshenko. In third place (11 percent of the votes) ended Self-confidence, a new party whose deputies represent civil society. The Nationalist Radical Party, which gained just over 7 percent, has been brought to the attention of party leader Oleh Lashkos (born 1972) connection with both armed protesters during the Euromajdan and some of the private militias that strengthened the Ukrainian defense force during the Donbass conflict. Svoboda lost its previous support and failed to get over the five percent barrier.

In the 2019 presidential election, Poroshenko was defeated by Volodymyr Zelenskyj, a former actor who received 73 percent of the vote in the second round. The election was judged by independent observers to be free, which, with the exception of the Baltic States, is unique among former Soviet republics. Zelenskyj took office in May and began his tenure with dissolving Parliament and announcing new elections.

In the parliamentary elections held in July 2019, Zelenskyj’s party received the People’s Servants, who were registered on Presidential Day and named after the TV series that made Zelenskyj famous, by far the most votes (43 percent); at the same time, the party’s candidates won over half of the one-man constituencies. In total, the People’s Servants received 254 out of 424 seats (26 seats remained empty as elections could not be held in the eastern regions or in Crimea). The second largest party became the Prorussian Opposition Platform – For Life (formed in 2018), while Tymoshenko’s Fatherland and European Solidarity (the new name of the Poroshenko Party) became basically equal. The Liberal and Europe-friendly Party The Voice, formed by another newcomer in politics, rock singer Svjatoslav Vakartjuk (born 1975), also took over the five percent barrier.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was given the opportunity to independently design its law and judicial system. Radical reforms designed to adapt the legal system to the needs of the market economy have been underway in recent years, but large parts of the legal system are still based on Soviet legal heritage. The death penalty was abolished in 1999.

Human Rights

Following Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the country was considered to be the former Soviet Republic with the best opportunities to achieve economic prosperity and integration with Europe. Today, however, poverty is widespread in the country and the income gaps are widening. Political turbulence has also characterized large parts of the 21st century (see State of affairs and politics). Corruption is widespread and affects all levels of society.

Mass demonstrations met by police violence have been common in the 2010s and torture is reported to occur in criminal investigations. At the beginning of 2014, controversial legislation was passed that increased the criminal penalties for a wide range of crimes in connection with protest activities, which limited the civil and political rights and the right to demonstrate. The law also brought further restrictions on mass media and the Internet. However, the Ukrainian Parliament tore up the law in connection with the mass demonstrations that subsequently led to the fall of President Yanukovych in February 2014.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the basic conditions for freedom of the press and press changed. From previously controlled by the Communist Party and the Soviet State, most of the press, radio and television are controlled today by influential political and economic actors who are to varying degrees considered to use the media to promote their own interests. Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2015 placed Ukraine in place 129 of 180 countries, which is a deterioration from 2014.

Women and children are most severely affected by the country’s difficult economic and political situation. The number of homeless children is extensive and the trafficking of Ukrainian women for the international sex market is a major problem. LGBTQ activists are also at risk as homophobia increases in the country and LGBTQ people are often subjected to violence and harassment from nationalist groups. A contributing role to the rising homophobia is considered to be the Church’s strong role in the country and its anti-gay message, while at the same time political representatives publicly expressing condescension about homosexuals and bisexuals.

Heads of State


1991-94 Leonid Kravtjuk
1994-2005 Leonid Kuchma
2005-10 Viktor Yushchenko
2010-14 Viktor Yanukovych
2014 Oleksandr Turtjynov (acting)
2014-19 Petro Poroshenko
2019- Volodymyr Zelenskyj

Ukraine Head of Government

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