Ukraine needs soldiers to fight Russia, but men are dodging Zelenskyy’s draft

By mzaxazm

The exact circumstances in many videos are hard to verify, but NBC News geolocated one that spread widely across social media last week.

It shows a physical fight between recruitment officers and civilians in the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, near to which the Russians launched their new offensive. The territorial recruitment center in Kharkiv responded to the video in a statement on Facebook saying the officers were “aggressively provoked,” which was not shown in the video. One officer was injured, the statement said. Still, it added the officers should not have entered into an argument and physical confrontation.

NBC News reached out to Ukraine’s Ground Forces about the videos and the effect they are having on the public, but has not heard back. Ukraine’s Ground Forces commander, Gen. Oleksandr Pavlyuk, said in March that out-of-context videos and criticism of recruitment officers only provide fodder for Russian propaganda.

Still, they have also been feeding the fears of some draft-eligible men who are left apprehensive about venturing into public spaces and are trying to avoid any contact with authorities.

Others look for ways to illegally escape abroad — men ages 18 to 60 are currently barred from leaving the country.

Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border service, said last month that 30 people have died since the beginning of the full-scale invasion trying to cross Ukraine’s western borders by traversing dangerous rivers, like the Tisza separating Romania and Ukraine, and mountains.

The efforts are often arranged by unscrupulous traffickers who are paid thousands of dollars for the crossings, the border service has said in other statements. Demchenko separately told NBC News that draft dodgers also try to cross illegally at regular checkpoints by using forged documents, trying to bribe border officers, or even hiding inside vehicles as stowaways.

For many, there is a “cognitive dissonance”: people want a victory for their country but in a way that means they or their loved ones are not conscripted, said Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. “Some people try to flee abroad, some people go into hiding,” Fesenko said. “But the government has no choice,” he said, given “the situation on the front lines.”

Kyiv has been waiting for new U.S. military aid to arrive as Russia has been advancing in the east and launched its new offensive in the north, further stretching Ukraine’s already limited manpower.

Ukraine has been conducting a rolling mobilization to boost its ranks since Russia invaded in February 2022. But the new mobilization law that came into effect earlier this month will mean that all men of military age have to report to draft offices to verify their credentials within 60 days. The apparent goal is to give the Ukrainian government a fuller picture of who can be called up. Men will also have to carry their military registration documents with them at all times. Women are currently not being mobilized, but some have volunteered to join the fight.

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