Everyone stays home: The Security and Defence Council bans officials from travelling abroad. How it used to work and what has changed now (UPDATED)
The possibility to cross the border depended primarily on the availability of reservation, not on the status of a civil servant
UPDATED: On January 27, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a resolution specifying the practical parameters for implementing the NSDC ruling banning travel abroad by officials and local authorities. In practice, the loudly announced embargo turned out to be not that strict, although it certainly narrowed the possibilities for personal trips disguised as trips of national importance.
So, there are several exceptions to the ban.
The first is a declared official visit, a business trip.
It is also allowed to travel for medical purposes, which is still possible for all men of military age. However, it can be assumed that in the case of officials, the border service will be more vigilant about the accompanying documents. In particular, when it comes to medical treatment, an official letter from a foreign clinic will be required. In other words, it will not be possible to go to a spa retreat under the guise of improving your health – at least at the first stage, until the hype around the parliamentary vacations dies down.
Another opportunity to go abroad exists for women who have minor children abroad – to care for them. Most likely, such a trip is also possible only in the format of a vacation.
Today, officials do not have a clear understanding of how the resolution will be implemented in practice. Most tend to believe that, at least in the first months, the Border Guard will try to overfulfill the plan, and therefore will follow the "better not to let them out again" principle.
For example, a broad interpretation may be expected in the section "head of a structural division of a central or local government body" – this category is also prohibited from traveling abroad by the NSDC decision. And whether this applies to the head of a division that is part of a department of a particular ministry, an official can find out as early as at the border crossing.
As a reminder, on January 23, the National Security and Defense Council resolved to restrict travel abroad for non-governmental purposes by central and local government officials, as well as members of parliament. On the same day, President Volodymyr Zelensky enshrined this decision in his decree. Within five days, the Cabinet of Ministers is to develop a practical procedure for regulating permissible foreign travel. In fact, business trips will remain the only legal way for most representatives of all branches of government to cross the border.
The list of officials who were banned from going abroad is long and completely indiscriminate. It even includes agencies that are clearly not involved in defence activities, such as the Accounting Chamber. The ban applies to law enforcement officers, MPs, prosecutors, and judges – see the full list below.
"If they want to relax now, they will relax outside the civil service. Officials will no longer be able to travel abroad for vacation or for any other non-governmental purpose," Zelensky said in a video address.
The decree also applies to professionals who were reserved by government agencies for the needs of a particular industry, such as workers in specialised industries or members of the agricultural sector. The President must have had them in mind when speaking about "everyone who has to work for the state and in the state."
Mind investigated how the new exit rules will work and on what grounds officials crossed the border before January 23, 2023.
Was the possibility of leaving the country during martial law an exclusive right of officials? No, it was not. No matter how tempting it may be for the Ukrainian public to believe that officials "won" special rights, the status of a civil servant did not play a key role in the issue of the right to leave.
In theory, everyone who had an exemption from mobilisation could travel abroad on the agreed dates, provided they returned.
What is the main document for men to travel abroad during martial law? The basic document that the State Border Guard was guided by was the presence of an exemption from mobilisation.
Yes, public officials were granted it, but they were not the only ones: as already mentioned, many specialists and employees at strategic enterprises are deferred from military service. Fathers of three or more children also have the right to leave by default.
What was the procedure for a draft-aged male civil servant to go abroad before January 23? To begin with, the official would write an application for leave addressed to the head of the government agency, saying that he would be away from Ukraine at that time.
The duration depended in each case on the vacation days available to him on his time sheet. The dates were approved, but there was no general standard for limiting the number of days, other than the standard ones set out in the Labour Code.
When crossing the border, the following documents were required: an authorised application for leave; a certificate of the agency to which the official was assigned; a certificate of exemption from duty and a draft card.
Even during this period, there were categories of officials who were prohibited from leaving the country even if they were deterred from duty, such as employees of special agencies.
Why has the procedure been tightened now, since the travel ban has been in place for almost a year? The authorities were forced to respond to another scandal: On January 20, Ukrainska Pravda reported that Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko had gone on vacation to Spain during martial law for the New Year's holidays.
Formally, Symonenko travelled quite legally, according to the mentioned scheme. And it would have been difficult to put forward on him anything other than the ethical component, if not for the nuances.
The Deputy Prosecutor General left Ukraine on December 30, 2022, through the Krakovets checkpoint driving a Mercedes, licence number ND 0001 KhN. According to the media, this car was registered to Holding Grand Hotel LLC, which is owned by the wife of Grygoriy Kozlovsky, an odious Lviv businessman and MP, who is associated with Vynnyky Tobacco Factory LLC.
Against the backdrop of other corruption scandals in recent days – overpriced food in a Defence Ministry tender, a $400,000 bribe to the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, etc. – the reaction was forced to be radical.
Mr. Symonenko was fired, and the NSDC made sure that this did not happen to other officials.
Who is now banned from leaving the country even if they are exempt from duty? The ban applies to:
- members of the Cabinet of Ministers;
- first deputies and deputy ministers;
- heads of central executive bodies, their first deputies and deputies;
- Head of the Presidential Office and his/her deputies;
- heads of other auxiliary bodies and services established by the President and their deputies;
- the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine and his/her deputies;
- the head and members of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting;
- the head and members of the Accounting Chamber;
- the head and members of the Central Electoral Commission;
- the head and members of other state collegial bodies;
- Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, his/her deputies;
- the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council and his deputies;
- Members of Parliament;
- the Parliamentary Commissioner and his/her representatives;
- the Head of the National Bank and his/her deputies;
- the representative of the President in the AR of Crimea and his deputies;
- heads of local state administrations and their deputies;
- justices of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, judges, prosecutors, heads of other state bodies and their deputies;
- heads of structural divisions of state bodies, employees reserved for the period of mobilisation by government authorities and other state bodies.
What does the clause on employees reserved for the period of mobilisation by the authorities and other state bodies mean? This means that if you are not a government official but an employee of a private company (a conditional representative of a farm or work at a factory that manufactures goods of social importance) and these were the grounds for being exempt from the draft through the relevant ministry, you are now equated with government officials. And you cannot leave the country.
Are female officials, members of law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, and MPs also banned from travelling abroad? Given the current wording of the NSDC ruling, yes, they are.
Perhaps the procedure approved by the Cabinet of Ministers may leave a loophole for such trips by female officials.
How was the innovation perceived by society? Predictably, it was positive.
Despite the fact that the word "reservation" rather than "civil servant" is the key word in officials' travel, these accents were not taken into account. And in general, officials are not a category of people who can count on the sympathy of Ukrainians.
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