After Two Years of Bloody Fighting, Ukraine Wrestles With Conscription

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When Russian troops and tanks invaded Ukraine in February 2022, tens of thousands of Ukrainians rushed to serve in the army in a surge of patriotic fervor. The influx of fighters who dutifully answered their draft notices or enlisted as volunteers helped to repel Russia’s initial assault and thwart the Kremlin’s plans to decapitate the Ukrainian government.

But after nearly two years of bloody fighting, and with Ukraine once again in need of fresh troops to fend off a new Russian push, military leaders can no longer rely solely on enthusiasm. More men are avoiding military service, while calls to demobilize exhausted frontline soldiers have grown.

The change in mood has been particularly evident in the heated debates over a new mobilization bill that could lead to drafting up to 500,000 troops. The bill was introduced in Parliament last month — only to be quickly withdrawn for revision.

The bill has catalyzed discontent in Ukrainian society about the army recruitment process, which has been denounced as riddled with corruption and increasingly aggressive. Many lawmakers have said that some of its provisions, like barring draft dodgers from buying real estate, could violate human rights.

The biggest sticking point concerns the highly delicate issue of mass mobilization. Measures that would make conscription easier have been seen by experts as paving the way for a large-scale draft, of the kind several military officials have recently said is needed to make up for losses on the battlefield and withstand another year of fierce fighting. Many in Ukraine fear that such measures could stir up social tensions.

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After Two Years of Bloody Fighting, Ukraine Wrestles With Conscription

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