Ukraine’s diminished forces drive recruitment push, proposal to lower draft age

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The Ukrainian government will seek to change its recruitment rules, potentially including an alteration to age requirements, to bolster the military against Russia’s invasion.

“This law is necessary for the defense of our state and every soldier who is currently at the front,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov argued in favor of the legislative change. “It needs to be approved as soon as possible.” 

“Our team has already prepared a new version of the draft law, taking into account all the proposals agreed in the working order with the members of parliament at the meetings of the committee on national security, defense and intelligence,” Umerov added. 

The previous draft of the bill did not receive full approval, leading to its recall. Umerov said in a post on Facebook that the bill took “half a year in a working group” with representatives of all factions of government to compose. 

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“After registering the bill in Parliament, we… participated in discussions and closed-door meetings, explained the necessity of this discussion,” Umerov said. “All the warnings have been heard and taken into account.” 

Umerov explained that the bill would allow the Ukrainian military to rotate forces, insisting the troops “need to be given a chance to rest,” calling delays in the process “unacceptable.” 

“Warriors who were released from captivity must be given a choice as to whether to remain in the army. Those who choose to stay will need at least a few months of leave. That’s fair,” he wrote. “The conscripted soldiers should finally be allowed to go home. That’s fair.”

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One of the key points of contention in the drafted bill would seek to reduce the draft age minimum from 27 to 25 along with electronic call-ups and punishment for those who do not properly respond to the draft call. 

Ukraine's military fires at Russian troops

Ukrainian artillery teams fire toward Russian troop positions in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Madeleine Kelly/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The newer draft language indicates that the mobilizations will have a 36-month cap and include exemptions for potential recruits from higher education or specialized fields. 

Ukrainians turned out in force at the start of the conflict, signing up in huge numbers that kept the fighting force strong. Stories recounted how even old women had signed up for military training to rebuff Russia’s invasion.

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Going into the second year of the conflict, Kyiv hyped up its counteroffensive for the spring and summer, but the effort failed to produce the anticipated results, leading many to question the future of the conflict and resist further plans to fund and equip Ukraine without a clear end in sight for the conflict.

Ukrainians have started to ask the same question as the government pushes to expand its forces: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his year-end conference revealed that military officials have called for a surge of 450,000 to 500,000 recruits, NPR reported. 

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Zelenskyy refused to back the order without further information, citing concerns over the heavy economic cost of mobilizing such a recruitment effort. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, head of Ukraine’s armed forces, days later denied any specific number requested but criticized the draft offices. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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