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Ukraine parliament passes bill allowing prisoners to join military

News Agencies | Updated on: 9 May 2024, 12:26 IST
Aftermath of a Russian military strike in Zaporizhzhia

Kyiv [Ukraine]: Ukraine's parliament has made a significant decision amidst the nation's pressing need for military personnel, passing a bill that would allow certain prisoners to enlist in the armed forces.

The move comes as Ukrainian forces confront a critical shortage of manpower, exacerbated by ongoing Russian advancements on the battlefield, Al Jazeera reported.

Wednesday's legislative move signifies a notable shift in Kyiv's stance on the issue. Previously, Ukrainian authorities had staunchly opposed such measures, frequently condemning Moscow for employing prisoners to bolster its military ranks.

The bill's passage through parliament is a pivotal step, awaiting final approval from the chairperson of parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before implementation.

"The parliament has voted yes," affirmed MP Olena Shuliak, leader of President Zelenskyy's party, via a Facebook announcement. She elaborated, stating, "The draft law opens the possibility for certain categories of prisoners who expressed a desire to defend their country to join the Defence Forces."

Under the proposed legislation, participation in mobilisation would be voluntary and restricted to specific prisoner categories. Notably excluded from eligibility are individuals convicted of sexual violence, multiple homicides, severe corruption, and former high-ranking officials, clarified Shuliak, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Eligible prisoners must have less than three years remaining on their sentence to apply for mobilisation, with the assurance of parole rather than a pardon if enlisted.

However, despite the bill's passage, the organization Protection for Prisoners of Ukraine expressed disappointment with the approved text. The head of the NGO, Oleg Tsvily, voiced concerns over perceived discrimination within the legislation, noting the elimination of leave for mobilized prisoners and uncertainties regarding their duration of service.

"We support the idea behind the law, but the text that was passed is discriminatory," Tsvily lamented.

He further expressed apprehension about the potential formation of "special units" for mobilized soldiers, fearing possible mistreatment of prisoners akin to reported practices by the Wagner mercenary group in Russia.

The recruitment of prisoners into military service has been a contentious issue since Russia's invasion in February 2022, with allegations of coerced enlistment and promises of presidential pardons for service.

This recruitment strategy was spearheaded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, notably captured on film touring Russian prisons to enlist soldiers for his Wagner Group.

As Ukraine continues to confront intensified Russian aggression, efforts to bolster military recruitment have escalated.

Recent measures include heightened penalties for draft evasion and a reduction in the draft age from 27 to 25, reflecting the nation's determination to fortify its defences against ongoing threats Al Jazeera reported.


First published: 9 May 2024, 12:26 IST