Ukrainian MPs pass controversial mobilisation bill to boost troop numbers

Bill is aimed at conscripting hundreds of thousands of reinforcements but exact figure has not been spelled out.

Ukraine’s parliament has passed a mobilisation bill aimed at conscripting hundreds of thousands of reinforcements, after a lengthy and contentious process to determine who next will be pressed into service.

The numbers needed are lower than the 500,000 initially sought, though the exact figure has not been spelled out. Many will be 25- and 26-year-old men, eligible for enforced enlistment for the first time.

A demobilisation clause that would have allowed soldiers to leave the military after 36 months of service was excluded after pressure from Ukrainian commanders concerned about the impact as the war heads towards the three-year mark.

MPs rejected an initial version of the bill in January and a revised version was submitted in February. It attracted 4,000 amendments in a contentious debate that finally ended on Thursday as it passed its second reading.

Some key provisions have already been signed into law by the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, separately this month, including a provision to lower the minimum age for male military conscription from 27 to 25.

Younger men from the age of 18 will be able to volunteer for the military as before but cannot be pressed into frontline service, while the maximum age of 60 remains unchanged.

Ukraine needs fresh recruits to hold thinning frontlines and to rotate combat veterans from the battlefield as it deals with growing casualties and fresh Russian offensives along the eastern front. But those who were keenest to volunteer are likely to have signed up a long time ago.

Russia continued its bombing campaign overnight, focused on power stations and other parts of Ukraine’s energy grid. The Kharkiv region was struck at least 10 times, leaving 200,000 homes without power in the morning, and the city metro had to be halted. Four people were killed in bombing in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian energy company Centerenergo said a power plant in Trypilska, in the Kyiv region, was destroyed. “All the workers who were on shift during the shelling are alive,” said Andriy Hota, the Centerenergo head, but the site was said to have lost all of its generating capacity.

In December, Zelenskiy said the former commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi had requested 450,000 to 500,000 new recruits, but last month Zaluzhnyi’s replacement, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said that figure had been “significantly reduced”. The precise number required was not specified.

A fresh row broke out on Wednesday after the demobilisation clause was dropped. A leaked letter from Syrskyi to the defence secretary, Rustem Umerov, said the issue should be discussed in a future bill, reflecting concern that tens of thousands could become eligible from February next year.

Dmytro Lazutkin, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s defence ministry, said on Wednesday that “currently it is impossible to weaken the defence forces” while the fighting continued. “We cannot make hasty decisions now,” he said.

The defence ministry said relieving soldiers was an issue. “It is clear that people who have been fighting since the beginning and holding the defence since 2022 are getting tired and exhausted,” Lazutkin said.

Some soldiers complained about the new provisions. “It’s a disaster,” Oleksandr, 46, an artilleryman in the Donetsk region, told the AFP news agency. “When a person knows when he is going to be demobilised he will have a different attitude,” he said. “If a person is like a slave then it will not lead to anything good.”

The bill includes mandatory medical checks for those who held the now scrapped “partially eligible” status to see if they are fit to serve. In future, those mobilised will be deemed either eligible or ineligible on health grounds.

Now that it has been passed by the parliament, the mobilisation bill has to be approved by the speaker and signed into law by Zelenskiy. It is expected to become law next month.

Russia has been quietly mobilising fresh recruits during 2023 and 2024, though the figures officially released are likely to be exaggerations. Vladimir Putin said at the end of 2023 that 486,000 new recruits had joined the army that year and that 1,500 a day were signing contracts. On Tuesday, Russia’s defence ministry claimed another 100,000 recruits had joined the army so far in 2024.

(Article by Dan Sabbagh and Artem Mazhulin in Kyiv republished from

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