Russia-Ukraine: What is martial law and why is it in place in Ukraine?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered a state of martial law in Ukraine.

On February 24th, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, following escalating tensions over the last few weeks and months over Ukraine’s relationship to NATO and Western powers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that it was a "special military operation" in Ukraine, but Ukraine, the UK, and other global powers have all described it as a blatant act of war.

In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered a state of martial law across the country – but what does this actually mean?

Smoke rise from an air defense base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday, February 24th. Photo: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka.

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Here’s what you need to know about martial law and what it means for Ukraine.

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What is martial law?

Martial law refers to the temporary military control over normal civil functions and civil law.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (centre) attends an urgent meeting with the leadership of the government, representatives of the defense sector and the economic block in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP.

It’s usually in response to a state of emergency or when civil forces are overwhelmed for some reason.

In practice, it enabled the military authorities to impose restrictions on movement, block rallies, and ban political parties “in the interests of national security and public order”.

Why is martial law in place in Ukraine?

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the country of Ukraine on the morning of Thursday February 24th and formally announced martial law in a brief video statement.

This is in response to the Russian invasion, as Russian troops target military bases near several Ukrainian cities, including the capital of Kyiv.

“Dear Ukrainian citizens, this morning President Putin announced a special military operation in Donbas,” Zelenskyy said.

"Russia conducted strikes on our military infrastructure and our border guards. There were blasts heard in many cities of Ukraine.

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"We’re introducing martial law on the whole territory of our country.

"Today each of you should keep calm. Stay at home if you can. We are working. The army is working. The whole sector of defense and security is working.

“No panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine.”

As a result, Ukraine’s military forces are currently in control of the country so as to be able to best respond to Russian aggression.

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Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba also addressed the situation, writing on Twitter: “Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes.

“This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

As Russia secures its hold over the Ukrainian city of Kherkov and continues pushing into the country, there are fears that Putin will also place a decree of martial law on the country if Russian forces secure it.

This has caused still more Ukrainian people to flee, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries like Poland.

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EU member states and the UK have also promised resources and support for those displaced by the invasion of Russia into Ukraine.

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