Ukraine is moving to expand its military mobilization efforts as Russia renews its offensive in the east. A revised mobilization bill submitted by the Ukrainian government this week aims to plug loopholes and demand equal sacrifice in the draft.
The proposed legislation comes as Ukraine faces immense pressure 11 months into Russia’s invasion, with intense fighting raging in the Donbas and thousands fleeing the country to avoid conscription. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has criticized draft evasion even as he calls for fairer mobilization rules.
Revised Mobilization Bill Aims to Close Loopholes
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers submitted an updated bill on amending mobilization procedures to the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.
The revised legislation aims to close loopholes that have allowed some Ukrainians to avoid military service. Key measures include:
- Lowering the mobilization age from 27 to 25
- Eliminating some exemptions, including for students in their second round of higher education
- Requiring electronic summonses through a government portal
- Imposing restrictions on those who evade service, such as bans on leaving the country
Officials stated the changes intend to ensure equality in mobilization and support Ukraine’s defense needs as fighting with Russia continues.
The bill follows recent calls from Ukraine’s military intelligence chief to expand mobilization to bolster wartime efforts. Ukraine is believed to have lost up to 13,000 soldiers last year, with many units suffering heavy casualties.
Intense Fighting in East Spurs Manpower Needs
The push to expand conscription comes as Russian forces refocus their offensive on eastern Ukraine after withdrawing from around Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Fierce battles are underway in Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russia has concentrated its firepower. The Kremlin is seeking to fully capture the Donbas industrial region, already partly held by Moscow-backed separatists before the invasion.
Securing Donbas would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a major battlefield win after a series of setbacks. But Ukrainian defenses have largely held firm, aided by sophisticated Western weapons.
Experts say Russia likely retains the manpower advantage, heightening Kyiv’s need to replenish its depleted forces. Ukraine’s military is believed to have shrunk from 250,000 to around 144,000 since the war began, according to military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.
Thousands Flee Country to Avoid Draft
While many Ukrainians have answered the call to service, the prospect of conscription has also triggered an exodus abroad.
Border guards report that tens of thousands of military-aged men recently left the country in January. Neighboring countries, including Georgia, Armenia, Montenegro, and the EU, have become common destinations.
Critics argue that the wealthy and connected have used their status to avoid serving. Reports have emerged of bribery schemes allowing exemptions.
President Zelenskyy has warned against draft evasion, stating “everyone is equal before the law.” But he also acknowledged mobilization issues, calling for rules ensuring the military drafts people fairly.
Troop Shortages Prompt Forced Conscription
With voluntary enlistment lagging, Ukraine has increasingly resorted to forcible conscription to meet manpower demands.
Reports have emerged of military enrollment officers forcibly mobilizing people off the streets or outside supermarkets. In one case, an armed officer allegedly threatened to shoot a man’s knee for resisting the draft.
Critics argue heavy-handed tactics undermine public support for the war effort. But officials say they have little choice given the military’s critical shortages after high casualties.
Prospects Remain Uncertain Despite Planned Buildup
Ukraine likely faces a daunting task in expanding its ranks while waging an exhausting war. Analysts say training and equipping new recruits takes considerable time, with estimates ranging from 2-6 months.
Table: Ukraine Military Manpower Overview
|Total Military Personnel
It remains unclear if Ukraine can mobilize forces quickly enough to hold newly regained territory in the northeast or blunt Russia’s offensive in the Donbas, analysts say.
But limited gains would still mark a Russian failure given Putin’s initial aim of seizing Kyiv and toppling Ukraine’s government. Stalemate could persist for years, imposing immense costs on both sides.
Alternatively, a collapsed Russian offensive or Ukrainian counteroffensive could open the door to negotiations rather than endless fighting. But peace talks remain a distant prospect with both sides still seeking battlefield gains.
As the war’s first anniversary approaches, Ukraine is racing to rebuild its depleted armed forces through an expanded mobilization campaign. Closing service loopholes aims to spread the sacrifices more evenly across society.
Success likely hinges on quickly funneling new recruits to the front and avoiding draft resistance that would undermine the war effort. With Russia gearing up for renewed attacks, Ukraine faces intense pressure to reinforce its outnumbered units.
Manpower shortages on both sides raise the stakes in the coming spring offensives. The outcome could determine whether the stalemate solidifies into a frozen conflict or a pathway opens for future talks.
For now, as one Ukrainian fighter stated, “We must help people make this unnatural choice.” With freedom and survival at stake, officials contend conscription remains essential despite the hardships.
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