Ukraine is seeking to increase the number of conscripts in several ways. Advertising campaigns are being expanded, exception rules are being carefully adjusted and evasion is being punished more harshly. The Ukrainian army needs more manpower and the army top recently asked President Zelensky for an extension of the mobilization.
Due to martial law, all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 can be drafted unless they are entitled to a deferment or exemption. However, the list of exceptions is long. The mobilization also takes place largely on a voluntary basis. According to Ukraine, manpower is mainly called up on the basis of someone’s specialism.
The mobilization is under a magnifying glass after a bribery scandal. Zelensky recently decided to replace the leaders of all regional recruitment centers, as medical exemption documents were issued for a fee.
All medical exemptions are now being reviewed again. A parliamentary committee is also investigating whether men who have left Ukraine can be extradited with such a purchased exception. Poland has already extradited Ukrainians who helped illegally leave Ukraine, according to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. As far as we know, this has not happened in the Netherlands.
Kyiv is reasonably reluctant to step up mobilization, partly to maintain popular support. In the media, politicians and military leaders emphasize that the mobilization is streamlined and that there is no reason to radically change the rules.
Nevertheless, minor adjustments are made to the conscription rules. For example, from 1 October women with medical professions are also conscripted. Female doctors, nurses and pharmacists must register with the recruitment offices and can be called up later.
The list of medical exceptions will also be adjusted. Currently, conscripted men are divided into three categories: fit, unfit, and limited fit. The latter category will be deleted and ‘limitedly suitable’ conscripts will be re-examined. This is expected to be several tens of thousands of people.
“This will lead to Ukrainians with certain illnesses or disorders becoming conscripts,” said Timur Savin, a journalist at the Ukrainian weekly magazine Focus. These include people with asymptomatic HIV, certain thyroid disorders or cured tuberculosis patients. Savin is critical of this “destructive” plan. “It may lead to new men, but I doubt how effective they will be.”
Another proposed adjustment concerns the mobilization of students. At the moment, military service has been postponed for all students. This would lead to students starting new studies in order to avoid conscription. Initiator Fedir Venislavsky of government party Servant of the People wants to tackle this by dropping the exemption for students aged 30 and older.
According to him, the number of students aged 25 and older will be 106,000 in 2022, compared to 40,000 in 2021. “That means 60,000 people are avoiding conscription in this way,” he says.
It’s normal to be afraid.
The longer the war continues, the more exemptions are likely to be reviewed. At present, 10,000 Ukrainians are being mobilized every month, says Ukrainian military expert Yevhen Dyki. This is partly necessary to compensate for losses.
The uncertainty about the mobilization is seized upon by Russia. According to the military intelligence service of Ukraine, Ukrainian mobilization is one of the main themes in Russian disinformation campaigns. Abuses, such as videos of heavy-handed recruitment employees, are actively disseminated by (pro-)Russian bloggers.
There is also plenty of fake news circulating, such as a message that all employees of the Kharkiv metro should go to the front. A scanned letter from the recruiting office served as proof. In reality it was a call to check the personal data in the conscription register and therefore not a call to serve.
Kyiv hopes that mainly motivated Ukrainians will serve in the army. The advertising campaigns are also aimed at this. “There are a lot of advertisements, especially in the big cities,” says journalist Savin. “It is also increasingly happening that people receive a text message with a targeted call.”
A new recruitment campaign focuses specifically on the group of doubters. “Until now, people have been attracted by an image of heroic warriors,” explains the design agency behind the campaign. In the new campaign, the emphasis is precisely on the fact that it is normal to be afraid. It should win over Ukrainians who until now considered themselves unfit for the army.
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