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Challenges of pre-election campaigning in the first post-war elections

(June 20, 2023)


Enabling Ukrainian immigrants to vote abroad is a significant concern in post-war elections. There are 8.5 million forcibly displaced Ukrainians registered in European countries, with more living abroad. Facilitating the election process abroad poses challenges, such as maintaining accurate voter lists and limited campaigning methods. Messaging apps and social media are crucial for reaching Ukrainians abroad. “Shady” campaigning schemes may become prevalent.

By Anastasia Romaniuk, Olha Snopok

After the abolition of martial law and the restoration of long-awaited peace, Ukraine will face many new challenges requiring an adequate response from the government and civil society. The post-war elections represent one such challenge. The list of potential problems includes the reformatting of  political space following the prohibition of pro-Russian parties, the prospect of holding vote in the regions that have been occupied since 2014, preparations for expression of the will of the people in the heavily mined and border territories. It is time for us to start searching for solutions to facilitate a democratic election process and ensure that both the people of Ukraine and the international community recognize the legitimacy of post-war elections.

The task of providing Ukrainian immigrants with the opportunity to vote abroad has become a serious issue in the context of post-war elections. According to the UN, as of April 2023, a total of 8.5 million forcibly displaced Ukrainians were registered in European countries alone. The actual figure of Ukrainian citizens that moved abroad may be much higher. Many of them won’t be able to return to Ukraine immediately after the end of hostilities because of the lack of housing and job opportunities or due to unsafe conditions in their home regions. At the same time, all these people still hold Ukrainian citizenship and therefore retain the right to elect the government and determine the future of Ukraine.

There is a number of obvious problems when it comes to facilitating the election process abroad: the necessity of maintaining personal data records intended for compiling the voter lists, the lack of polling places, etc. Furthermore, there are other less obvious problems that can’t be ignored, such as pre-election campaigning. Ukrainian elections have long been accompanied by large-scale campaigns of political agitation. Every election race is marked by thousands of billboards with photos of candidates appearing by the side of the road, audios and videos of election promises that are broadcast on television and radio, political ads targeted at social media users over a long period of time. However, the opportunity to use all these campaigning methods may be substantially limited or even unavailable outside Ukraine. According to the results of Civil Network OPORA’s research, only 8% of Ukrainians living abroad receive information about Ukraine from television. Meanwhile, the majority of Ukrainian immigrants use messengers (50%) and social media (47%) for this purpose. These platforms may well become the main campaigning tools in the post-war elections.

This publication represents OPORA’s analysis of Ukrainian and international legislative regulation of electoral campaigns and the limitations of campaigning on social media platforms.

Ukrainian legislation

First of all, it should be noted that the rules and regulations of pre-election campaigning in Ukraine are established by the Electoral Code as of 2019. According to Electoral Code of Ukraine, pre-election campaigning is defined as any kind of activity that encourages voters to vote or refrain from voting for a certain candidate or party – electoral subject. Pre-election campaigning can be carried out in many different ways: rallies, debates, concerts, distribution of leaflets, political advertising in mass media. Television and social media are the most popular campaigning tools among Ukrainian politicians, as seen during most recent election campaigns.

All campaigning activities shall be financed from the election fund only. The election fund shall be formed at the expense of candidates, political parties and voluntary contributions made by ordinary citizens (with certain restrictions depending on the type of election). Furthermore, each candidate and political party is required to submit a financial report containing information on campaign finance (including the expenditures on campaigning activities) to the authorized state bodies that are obliged to publish these reports. Besides that, the Electoral Code imposes a number of limits on the cost and duration of political campaigning on television, obliges the electoral subjects to indicate output data on printed campaign materials, etc. There is also an ongoing debate on the issue of legislative regulation of pre-election campaigning on the Internet and social media platforms.

On the other hand, the problem of pre-election campaigning abroad was overlooked by Ukrainian legislators. In particular, Ukrainian diplomatic institutions (precinct election commissions and polling stations are usually located at the premises of these institutions) are only required to publish on their websites the information about election date and hours for voting, location of polling places, voting procedure, the rules for including people on the list of voters at the overseas polling stations, etc. Ukrainian embassies and other state institutions must observe neutrality and refrain from publishing the campaign materials of any candidate or political party.

Furthermore, the Electoral Code prohibits foreign citizens from taking part in pre-election campaigning (including by way of conducting journalistic activities or participating in concerts, stage performances and other public events). Besides that, Ukrainian politicians and parties are banned from campaigning in foreign mass media that operate on the territory of Ukraine. At the same time, political parties and candidates are allowed to address foreign legal entities with a request for services. The Electoral Code also places the candidates and parties under an obligation to open election fund accounts in national currency (hryvnia) only, which creates obstacle for  making payments abroad.

As we can see, the Electoral Code doesn’t provide any regulatory framework for pre-election campaigning abroad. This is due to the need to observe the principle of state sovereignty, which prohibits Ukraine from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and extending its jurisdiction beyond its territorial boundaries. In the previous elections, Ukrainian politicians seldom resorted to campaigning abroad since there weren’t too many voters in the overseas electoral district and the turnout rate was quite low. Now that millions of Ukrainians are going to vote abroad, campaigning outside Ukraine has become an extremely important issue.

EU legislation

As of today, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Digital Service Act (DSA) are the main legislative acts that provide regulatory framework for political advertising in the European Union.

The GDPR differentiates between personal and sensitive information by imposing more severe restrictions on collection, processing and use of sensitive data. In particular, the user’s IP address, phone number, e-mail, etc. shall be treated as personal data, while the person’s racial and ethnic origin, political opinions, religious and philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, genetic and biometric data used for identification purposes, as well as the information concerning a person’s sex life and sexual orientation is considered sensitive.

According to Article 9 of the GDPR, processing of sensitive data shall be prohibited, barring some exceptions. However, according to the clarifications provided in the DSA, these exceptions shall not apply to personalization of advertising, including political ad settings. In other words, user profiling based on sensitive data for the purpose of customizing online ad settings on social media platforms shall be prohibited.

Furthermore, the GDPR imposes a ban on microtargeting, that is, customization of advertisement messages in accordance with user’s personal preferences and beliefs. The vast arrays of personal data about online user behavior collected by tech companies allow advertisers to do conditional user profiling based on their preferences and opinions for the purpose of creating a more persuasive message customized for various target groups. Unfortunately, the current legislation of Ukraine doesn’t provide a regulatory framework for the above-mentioned practices, which are expressly prohibited by the EU law. Companies and organizations can be fined up to 20,000 euros for failing to comply with the GDPR.

It is also important to bear in mind that the European law serves as framework legislation for EU member states. Each member state can impose even more severe restrictions on online campaigning at the national level.

In addition to current framework legislation, the European legislators are elaborating a field-specific law: Regulation on the transparency and targeting of political advertising. As of today, the draft version of this document is negotiated by the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. It is expected that this law will be adopted before the election to European Parliament scheduled for May 2024. Among other things, this law shall establish clear-cut regulation of cross-border advertising. In particular, advertising service providers not established in the EU shall be obliged to appoint, in writing, their legal representatives in one of the EU member states where they provide their services. Legal representatives shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with this Regulation. Furthermore, legal representatives shall be obliged to observe the national law of the host country insofar as it relates to personal data protection, online advertising and political campaigning. The jurisdiction of all EU member states at once shall apply to those advertisers that don’t have a designated representative in one of the EU member states, in which case each of EU member states shall be able to exercise its jurisdiction over such advertisers at any time upon giving notice to other member states. However, there is also a possibility that the EU will impose an outright ban on cross-border political advertising.

Social media regulation

The legislation of certain countries and supranational entities, such as the EU, places significant restrictions on online campaigning. Moreover, each social media platform applies its own restrictions to political advertising.


Meta (the owner of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and several other social network services) is considering the possibility of imposing a company-wide ban on political advertising in Europe, while the current political content policy of Meta platforms is probably the strictest of all. According to Meta policy, any campaigning activity in support of a candidate or political party, as well as any advertisements related to social issues, elections, referenda and other means of expression of the will of the people shall be treated as political advertising.

Advertisers must undergo a special verification procedure in order to launch an advertising campaign related to any of the above topics. This procedure is available only to those advertisers that are physically present and reside in the country where they intend to run political ads. Furthermore, each potential advertiser must verify his/her identity by providing a document issued in the country where he/she intends to run political ads. In other words, it will be possible to launch political advertising campaign targeted at Ukraine, only if you live in Ukraine. The same holds true for any other country. Application of this rule can create additional obstacles for Ukrainian candidates and political parties. After all, despite the absence of direct prohibition of election fund transfers abroad, purchase of advertising services from foreign citizens can be interpreted as political campaigning with the involvement of foreigners, which is against the law. Although the involvement of foreign legal entities in campaigning activities is not prohibited by law, it can also be complicated due to legal requirement to pay for advertising services in the national currency of Ukraine.

Furthermore, all political ads on Meta platforms must contain a disclosure that identifies who paid for the ad with an indication of the address of political party or candidate’s campaign headquarters, phone number, email address and website. If the advertisers fail to do so, Meta shall reject or block their political ads until they meet all the requirements. Meta shall also check the images, texts and ad settings with the help of artificial intelligence and moderators to prevent any violations of Meta Community Standards and local laws. For more information on how the political ads get into the newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram, please refer to OPORA’s prior publication.


Google offers contextual and banner advertising services on YouTube platform and Google search engine. It should be noted that Google differentiates between political and election ads. While political ads are subject to the same rules as any other ads on this platform, special requirements apply to election advertising based on region. In particular, the advertisers that are located in one of the EU member states or outside the EU and intend to run election ads targeted at EU audience must verify their identity. Google defines election ads in the EU as an advertisement of referenda, political parties or candidates at the EU level or at the national/local level in one of the EU member states. According to this logic, advertisement of elections in Ukraine targeted at Ukrainian immigrants in the EU is not subject to special rules established by Google. At the same time, Google obliges the advertisers to comply with the legislation of home country of the users targeted by their advertisements. Therefore, election advertising on Google aimed at Ukrainian voters in the EU will be subject to both the EU legislation and the national legislation of the country targeted by election ads.


Viber policy is similar to that of Google with the exception that the same rules are applied to political and election advertising. The advertisers that intend to run political advertising campaigns on Viber must obtain written permission from the company and comply with the national legislation of the country targeted by their political ads.

Twitter, TikTok, Telegram

Twitter policy prohibits any kind of political advertising on this platform with some exceptions made for the United States, Canada and the media that broadcast ads related to political issues (although they are prohibited from political campaigning). Likewise, Tiktok and Telegram also don’t provide paid political advertising services with no exceptions.


Transparent pre-election campaigning is an essential component of democratic election process that allows political parties and candidates to communicate their views, values and priorities to voters. We hope that the majority of Ukrainian refugees will return home after the end of the war, but the unprecedented increase in the number of voters registered in the overseas electoral district can’t be ignored in any case. Given the high cost and logistical complexity of offline political campaigning abroad, and due to the fact that social networks serve as the main media consumption platform for Ukrainian immigrants, online campaigning is seen as almost the only possible way of interacting with voters outside Ukraine.

Both Ukrainian and European laws impose restrictions on Ukrainian advertisers, which makes political campaigning abroad more difficult and more expensive. Furthermore, the policies of social media platforms other than Google present an additional obstacle to “official” political campaigning in Ukraine. However, political advertising on Google platform is also subject to limitations imposed by the national legislation of the country targeted by political ads. In other words, Google services also can’t be used for campaigning purposes under current EU law.

The widespread use of “shady” campaigning schemes, which are impossible to track in terms of campaign expenses and content, seems the most likely scenario under such conditions. Pre-election campaigning abroad may well turn into a financial “arms race”, given the high complexity of campaigning process and the probable impossibility of conducting political agitation campaign in the overseas electoral district without having a designated representative in the EU. In such a case, the parties and candidates that are not required to report about sources of campaign finance or comply with political advertising expenditure ceiling will resort to campaigning in Telegram channels and on social media pages of bloggers and influencers, coordinated inauthentic behavior and unlabeled political advertising, which is almost impossible to monitor through the efforts of controlling authorities and independent observers. Finally, the unresolved problems of campaigning abroad may undermine the legitimacy of post-war election process.

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