Next year, in 2024, two important presidential elections are scheduled to happen in Europe. One in Russia, the outcome of which will hardly be a surprise, and one in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian constitution, presidential elections must be held in the fifth year of the incumbent president’s term, which would put it to late March 2024 in this case.
Despite the stipulation in Ukraine’s constitution, due to the martial law that was introduced in Ukraine in 2022 in response to the war, and has been renewed continuously every 90 days, it is highly questionable that the elections will actually end up happening at this point.
Under martial law, it is prohibited to hold elections:
it will either have to be retracted to hold them, or the elections will have to be postponed.
Next year’s Ukrainian presidential elections are facing difficulties not only due to the legislative barriers, but also because of the consequences of Russia’s invasion. As of now, Russia controls about 20 per cent of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory—albeit sound data is not available on the population of these lands, Russia claims that a couple of million people live in the occupied territories. In addition, Ukraine also lost a sizeable part of its population (about 6 million people) to outward migration—which mounts up to a considerable population loss for Kyiv.
Voting is difficult to organize for the Ukrainian refugees living in Europe, while it is impossible to arrange for the Ukrainian citizens living on the occupied territories.
The considerable logistical barriers and the loss of legitimacy that would result from the failure to allow these people to vote also hinder the prospects of a Ukrainian presidential election in 2024.
There is also a financial barrier to organizing the vote—earlier, when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham visited Ukraine from the US and urged Kyiv to hold elections Zelenskyy seemed to agree to it if the Western world helps fund it. The Ukrainian president openly stated that additional aid is needed for Kyiv to be able to hold elections, as the funds sent for weapons will not be used to organize the voting. Money on the other hand is becoming more and more scarce—partially due to the recent domestic political struggles in the American legislature, as well as the war in the Middle East, Ukraine has been receiving less money than it had hoped for.
Since, at this point, it is not clear whether the elections will happen or not, only one person has announced to run as a candidate.
The sole known confirmed candidate to date is Oleksii Arestovych,
a former advisor to the incumbent president. The man who used to work as a Strategic Communications Adviser of the Office of the President of Ukraine from late 2020 to January 2023 was involved in 33 missions against the Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region after 2014. Earlier, in the mid-2010s, he was part of a far-right party, the Brotherhood or Bratstvo. Arestovych served as the deputy chairman of the party that was headed by Dmytro Korchynsky, a far-right militant who participated in several armed conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including the first Chechen war (on the side of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria), the War in Abkhazia (on the side of Georgia) as well as the Transnistria War.
Once the war broke out, Arestovych, who served as a spokesperson to the president, gained much respect across Ukraine—according to Meduza, in May 2022, only the President himself had higher approval ratings than Arestovych. Fame was followed by failure, however, as in January 2023, the charismatic politician was forced to resign.
Back in January, Arestovych, who has a very strong social media presence, publicly stated that a residential building in Dnipro was hit by the debris of a Russian missile that the Ukrainian air defence system had destroyed. The Russian pro-Kremlin media actively utilized the statement of the Ukrainian president’s advisor to alleviate Moscow’s responsibility for the death of 45 people. Therefore, Arestovych was forced to resign, as Kyiv argued that the building was directly hit by a Russian missile.
Since his resignation, Arestovych moved abroad. where he announced his candidacy for the presidency in recent weeks.
While announcing his run, he argued that Ukraine should relinquish Crimea and stop pursuing the retake of its territories by military means in exchange for NATO membership,
thus offering a way out of the ongoing military conflict. He said that Ukrainians must be awakened and face reality— the return to the 1991 borders is unlikely, and military victory over Russia does not seem possible at this point. He argued that even Ukrainians themselves are losing faith that they can attain victory and that the country needs a new approach, as by military means, Kyiv is not progressing.
Shortly after, the Ukrainian—and international—media was rocked by the news that Arestovych announced his candidacy, Zelenskyy said (not speaking of Arestovych) that ‘We all understand that now, in wartime, when there are many challenges, it is utterly irresponsible to engage in topics related to an election in such a frivolous manner’. The incumbent president also stated that it is the time for defence, and it is not the appropriate time to hold elections.