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Ukrainian men decide either to join military or to avoid at all costs

Ukrainian military recruitment offices are filled with anxiety over the recently passed mobilisation law – CNN.

The Ukrainian government has made no secret of the fact that it urgently needs to recruit more men as it tries to defend itself against advancing Russian troops by introducing more and more mobilisation upgrades. Therefore, Ukrainian men now have a choice: enlist in the army and face the possibility of being sent to the front lines, or try to evade and risk punishment and censure.

Shortage of manpower

One Ukrainian commander, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said the shortage of personnel is having devastating effects on the ground. He told CNN about the eastern industrial city of Avdiivka, which came under the control of Russian forces in February after Ukraine held it for more than a decade.

If there had been 1,000 to 1,500 more servicemen in Avdiivka, we would have protected the weak spots through which the enemy entered… If we had more people, we would have held out much longer.

In making the case for new mobilisation, Yurii Sodol, commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), told Ukrainian lawmakers last month that Russian troops outnumber Ukrainian troops “seven to 10 times” in eastern Ukraine. The manpower shortage puts enormous pressure on those already serving.

Yaroslav Galas, who is currently serving with the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, stressed:

The war is still going on and mobilisation is essential. People who have been fighting for two years are tired. Some are going crazy. (…) Soldiers need proper rest for several months. They need to heal, relax and forget. They need to spend the money they have earned with sweat and blood, to solve their economic and personal issues.

The new law obliges all Ukrainian men aged between 18 and 60 to register in the army and always carry their documents. Meanwhile, only men aged 25 to 60 are subject to mobilisation. The lower limit of conscription has been reduced by two years, from 27 years old, but this is unlikely to make much difference over Ukraine’s demographic problems.

Women with medical or pharmaceutical qualifications must also register with the army, although they are not obliged to serve.

How many will be mobilised?

So far, it still remains rather vague, how many will eventually be drafted. Late last year, the leader of President Vladimir Zelensky’s Servant of the People faction in parliament said that the military was looking for an extra 500,000 servicemen and women. But the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, recently said any increase in numbers would likely be much lower.

Some in the military are already wondering if this will work. Their worry is that they will end up with units full of men who are only there because someone forced them to be. Dmytro Kulibaba, a soldier with the 114th Territorial Defence Brigade, stressed:

“We still want people to join voluntarily. Because there is a big difference between someone who was drafted into the army and someone who went to defend their homeland. The desire to fight the enemy is very important, in addition to training, equipment and preparedness.”

Galas said many people are concerned that if they are drafted, they will automatically be sent to the front lines, which he said is not the case. In his opinion, the mobilisation campaign is not going well because it is not giving people enough information. Despite initial anxiety, many soldiers are adapting well to their new lives, giving the example of a young IT specialist who was mobilised within the last few months. He immediately impressed his commanders, he added.

Avoidance of service

CNN spoke to one man who intends to avoid service at all costs. He asked to remain anonymous because he fears retaliation. He said:

I don’t want to kill people, and in principle, I’m not ready for that. If shelling starts on the frontline, I think I will be confused and will only create problems for others. (…) I think I’d be more useful making money and bringing dollars to the country than digging trenches or guarding military facilities.

He said Ukraine lacks the weapons to militarily retake the territory seized by Russia in the war. The only way forward, he said, is a political agreement that would result in Ukraine regaining its land. In case he receives a draft notice, he will leave the country immediately.

I don’t want to leave; I know that things are not so beautiful and sunny in Europe. But if I had to choose between going to war or going abroad, I would choose abroad, I would pay a bribe. My life comes first. And I realise that there is a very high chance of being killed, according to him.

At the same time, the soldiers now serving have little patience for men like this one, who say they cannot join the fight. Galas said:

Soldiers who go on leave or for treatment, who are exhausted … of course that (seeing other men) drinking coffee in coffee shops, going to restaurants, pumping their biceps and (saying they were) “not born for war” make soldiers angry.

Yet many still try to escape. A spokesman for Ukraine’s Border Guard Service told CNN that on a daily basis officers detain people trying to leave Ukraine. Since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022, the bodies of 32 people have been found in the Tisza River on the border with Romania and Hungary.

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