Ukrainians find it easy to evade military service
Even as Ukraine’s military finds itself head-to-head with Russian forces in the east, the latest draft in the country has failed miserably – with draft dodgers apparently finding it surprisingly easy to evade service.
The most recent, sixth troop call-up since fighting began in mid-April 2014 has by far been the most controversial during the war, as it marked the first time people with no military experience were conscripted, with men between the ages of 20 and 60 eligible to serve.
Those exempt from the draft include men raising three or more children, single fathers raising a
child under the age of 18, men who are not physically fit for service for medical reasons, students and those whose religious beliefs prevent them from killing.
Officially ending on Aug. 18, the sixth wave, like those before it, failed to meet its mark – hitting only 60 percent of the target.
Alexander Pravdivets, the deputy head for mobilization planning with Ukraine’s General Staff, announced at a briefing in Kyiv on Aug. 18 that 26,800 people called up for the draft had failed to appear for service. He said nearly 1,500 criminal cases have been opened against those who evaded military service.
The reasons for not wanting to serve vary, with many “draft dodgers” citing last year’s catastrophic defeat in Ilovaisk and this year’s defeat in Debaltseve as evidence that commanders are dangerously incompetent.
“We saw what happened in Ilovaisk, when our guys were abandoned by their commanders. Why would anybody want to serve when such horror stories are sure to repeat themselves?” said Oleksiy, who said he’d gotten out of the draft by paying a doctor to diagnose him with severe asthma. He spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid prosecution.
Others have argued that the draft is unfair without an official declaration of a state of war in the country.
“This is a stupid war, and it’s not even really a war if our guys aren’t even allowed to return fire when they need to,” said Yaroslav, a 26-year-old who declined to provide his surname because he moved to avoid receiving a draft notice.
“Why should we sit in the trenches like pieces of meat if our government won’t even admit that there is a war on and instead engage in mindless political posturing?” he said. “I’d willingly go to the front – if the sons of oligarchs and high-ranking officials would get drafted just like all ordinary people.”
Military enlistment officers have gone to great lengths to deliver draft notices, even tracking down targets on trains and on the street.
Yet even such drastic measures have done little if anything to combat the number of draft dodgers.
Lawyer Igor Godetsy of the Association of Human Rights Defenders said that the mobilization is illegal. “Why isn’t America helping Ukraine? Why aren’t other countries helping? Because officially there is no war here, it’s a local conflict. And for that very reason, in accordance with the Constitution, there cannot legally be a mobilization. These people cannot be prosecuted for not showing up in enlistment offices,” Godetsy said.
Vladyslav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Army General Staff, could not be reached for comment. Viktor Muzhenko, Army General Staff chief, said he was satisfied with the draft in an interview with Novoe Vremya magazine that was published on Aug. 11.
Acknowledging the prevalence of draft dodgers, Muzhenko said the first mobilization wave was the worst.
Other problems exist. The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, has repeatedly announced the arrests of employees at military recruitment offices who are caught accepting bribes to let draftees out of service. In mid-August, the deputy head of an enlistment office in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast was arrested on suspicion of taking a $700 bribe, the SBU said.
Meanwhile, the legal crackdown on draft dodgers continues. In Kyiv alone, 47 criminal cases have been opened against people evading military service, and about 400 people are serving time for evading the draft.
The poor track record of past mobilizations seem to have prompted the authorities to rely on veterans for the next wave, which President Petro Poroshenko has warned is possible in the near future if fighting escalates in the east. Some 7,000 people have been killed since the war started, according to the United Nations, with 1.5 million people internally displaced.
Andriy Lysenko, a military spokesman, said in an interview with 112 Ukraina on Aug. 26 that the seventh callup would focus on former servicemen.
“The next wave will likely consist of volunteers. Ninety percent will consist of people who will go willingly, those who resigned after their first year of service and it is precisely they who will go to the enlistment offices because they have experience and their rifles are still warm,” Lysenko said.
Many men will opt for the easy way out of any future mobilizations.
Dmytro Yadvoshenko, a computer programmer and activist in Kharkiv who designed drones for the military, is perhaps the best-known figure in the crackdown against evaders, although he argued he is serving the military in a different way by creating the drones. In early June, Yadvoshenko’s arrest caused an uproar among activists. On Aug. 20, Yavdoshenko was released on bail, but he still faces the prospect of jail time. He told the Kyiv Post on Aug. 26 that he had been released and had begun working on drones for the army. He declined to comment on his case, however, saying media attention could compromise his upcoming trial.
Semyon Salatenko, a volunteer with the Dnipro-1 Battalion serving in the east, said he and other volunteer fighters do not sympathize with those who evade military service.
“There are tons of ways for them to get out of fighting. The fact that there is no official war makes it easier, and our laws have plenty of loopholes,” he said. “But we despise them.”
Vladimir Kidon, a military recruitment officer in Kyiv, holds up a draft notice to demonstrate his own readiness to head to the front last summer. At that time, military enlistment offices in Kyiv said the mobilization had a success rate of 96 percent...