Ukraine passes bill to recruit prisoners for depleted army ranks

The severe manpower crisis of Ukraine's armed forces continues to be on display, particularly after the recent decision of the government to deny embassy and consular services for Ukrainian men of fighting age who live abroad but refuse to come back home.

Ukraine's parliament on Wednesday just once again upped the controversy and advanced a dramatic change in law and national policy. It passed a bill enabling select prisoners to be released in order to fight in the armed forces.

Ukraine passes bill to recruit prisoners for depleted army ranks
Via Associated Press

"The parliament has voted 'yes,'" MP Olena Shuliak, head of Zelensky's party, announced in a social media post. "The draft law opens the possibility for certain categories of prisoners who expressed a desire to defend their country to join the Defense Forces," she said.

Ironically Moscow has previously come under international condemnation and mockery for just such a policy.

AFP and other international outlets acknowledged this as follows: "Long-opposed to the measure and having criticized Moscow's mobilization of prisoners to fill its ranks, Kyiv has recently U-turned amid fresh Russian advances on the battlefield," a report said.

The legislation still has to be signed by parliament's chairperson and President Zelensky in order to come into force as an active policy. The bill includes the following reported stipulations and parameters:

  • Prisoners must volunteer
  • Only those with three or more years left on their sentence can apply
  • Those convicted of violent sexual crimes are not eligible
  • Former high-ranking officials and those guilty of "serious corruption" are not eligible
  • Prisoners who killed two or people are not eligible

One glaring aspect is that it appears literal murderers can possibly still go free if they join the army, so long as they killed no more than one person, based on the AFP's reporting

The following unexpected and bizarre line is in the AFP report detailing the new Ukrainian bill:

Among those not eligible to serve include those found guilty of sexual violence, killing two or more people, serious corruption and former high-ranking officials, Shuliak said.

However, some conflicting information has emerged. The below is via a Ukrainian news source:

Shuliak told Ukrainska Pravda that the following will not be eligible to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine: those who have committed premeditated murder, rapists and paedophiles, corrupt officials, those who have committed crimes against the foundations of Ukraine's national security, and those who have held a particularly responsible position, including MPs and ministers.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians living abroad are said to be outraged at the government's efforts to lure them back to Ukraine by the denial of consular services. One 19-year old man living abroad told Al Jazeera the following:

“I support individual battalions in Ukraine with donations every month – this is my duty,” said Anton, who works as a waiter.

But I don’t want to fight, as I don’t trust our government. They don’t care about people. And they don’t care if there’s a war going on, they’re corrupt and keep stealing the money that we pay for the army. Why go to war for a state who only wants to steal?” he said bitterly.

Another 35-year old man currently in Poland (where many Ukrainian families fled once the war began) told Al Jazeera as follows: "If the army could guarantee that my work would be aligned with my skills and knowledge, I would go back. I could help with drones and other technology. But getting a rifle and shooting would not be the most efficient way of utilizing my skills."

Ukraine forces continue losing ground along front line positions in the east. Not only are they outgunned, but the more experienced fighters who have been in it from nearly the beginning are exhausted, with commanders having few options in terms of rotating in fresh battalions from the back.

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