Ukraine could ask male citizens living abroad to join army next year

By Isaac M December 22, 2023

Ukrainian men who live abroad and are fit to serve in the military should return to join the country’s armed forces next year, the war-hit country’s defence minister said on Thursday, adding that punishments could be introduced for those who fail to do so.

It represents a significant shift in Ukraine’s recruitment policy 22 months after it was invaded by Russia, and comes after Volodymyr Zelensky said the military had asked him for as many as half a million more men in 2024, but that no decision on conscription had yet been made.

Umerov said that Ukrainian men living abroad would first be “invited” to report to recruiting offices, but added that measures would be taken if they did not show up willingly.

“Ukrainians living in Germany who are fit for military service should strengthen the Ukrainian army next year. The minister of defence said that those who do not comply with this requirement will face sanctions,” defence minister Rustem Umerov said in an interview with German publication Die Welt.

“We are still discussing what will happen if they don’t come voluntarily,” the minister said.

Shortly after Mr Umerov’s comments, the defence ministry issued a statement suggesting the remarks had been taken out of context.

The minister was speaking generally about how to communicate to Ukrainians, including those living outside the country, the importance of joining the army, according to the defence ministry’s press officer Illarion Pavliuk.

He said there was no active discussion on recruiting Ukrainians living abroad into the military.

The defence minister’s comments on mobilisation come just a day after the Ukrainian president called mass mobilisation of troops a “sensitive issue”, refuting any immediate plans to conscript 450,000 to 500,000 men.

Ukrainian military officials had made the request amid intense fighting, with battlefield losses in the past couple of months reported to be occuring at the highest rate of the war so far.

Mr Zelensky said he has informed the army’s General Staff that he needed more arguments to support the move because it involved factors other than defence capability and finances.

“I said I would need more arguments to support this move. Because first of all, it’s a question of people, secondly, it’s a question of fairness, it’s a question of defence capability, and it’s a question of finances,” Mr Zelensky said in his year-end press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday.

He has also refused to sign a law mobilising women into the army.

Ukraine will need 500bn hryvnias (£10.6bn) to support the army’s proposal for mobilising tens of thousands, he said.

The total number of Ukrainian soldiers who have held back the Russian invasion since February 2022 is not clear, and has not been published by the Zelensky administration.


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