Graham Stack in Kyiv -
Ukraine's latest round of mobilisation of army reserves faces massive draft-dodging, as the conflict in East Ukraine with Russian-backed rebels becomes increasingly bloody and protracted.
Given escalating fighting in East Ukraine, the Ukrainian defence ministry on January 20 lauched its fourth wave of mobilisation of the country's reservists since its "anti-terrorist campaign" started in April 2014. The army reserves comprise men who have undergone one year of mandatory national military service.
On January 26, the defence ministry said a total of just under 62,000 reservists had already received their draft papers in the new wave, half of the overall target number. Draft-dodging in Ukraine can be punished by up to three years in jail.
But writing on Facebook on January 27, presidential advisor Yury Biryukov said that draft-dodging had become endemic, even in West Ukraine – the traditional heartland of Ukrainian patriotism. According to Biryukov, 57% of those called up in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk, named after a national poet, had simply ignored their draft papers.
Biryukov said that an estimated 37% of those called up had crossed the border into Romania. “Unofficial sources tell us that hotels and motels on the other side of the border with Romania are packed with draft-dodgers,” he wrote.
In the Facebook post – which he later deleted after a storm of controversy – Biryukov alleged that 14 village councils in Ivano-Frankivsk had refused to allow the distribution of draft papers in the villages. The same is true of other West Ukrainian regions, Biryukov said, adding that 17% of draftees from neighbouring Chernivtsi region had left for Romania.
Biryukov said that the draft was proceeding “normally” in southern and central areas closer to the conflict, such as Odesa, Mikolaevsk and Dnipropetrovsk.
Other reports, however, speak of difficulties here as well. The army commissioner for Poltava region in central Ukraine on January 27 said that 50% of draftees had failed to show, Interfax Ukraine reported. In the town of Kremenchug, the responsible official said that only around 10 reserve officers had showed up for service out of several hundred registered locally.
One district council in Odesa region has resorted to tough measures to improve the draft, posting on its website an order prohibiting reservists from leaving the district until all call-up papers had been issued. The order was later removed from the website.
Other reports speak of widespread corruption in the call-up system allowing draftees to buy themselves free.
Some military analysts argue that draft-dodging is a necessary evil to sort the wheat from the chaff, with the patriotically motivated who answer the call of far greater value to the army in action.
Front line journalist and commentator Yury Butusov blamed the widespread draft-dodging on Ukraine's general staff – and thus ultimately on commander-in-chief President Petro Poroshenko – for having neglected the regional level of administration, failed to stamp out corruption in the call-up system and avoided adequately paying and equiping draftees, meaning they fear being sent to the front without winter clothing, body armour or first-aid kits.
Butusov rejected Biryukov's singling out of West Ukraine: “West Ukraine is always in the [national] avant guard – we remember it on the Maidan [pro-EU protests in 2014], and the 'heavenly hundred' [anti-government protestors shot by police during pro-EU demonstrations in February 2014]. The level of draft-dodging is the same through out Ukraine,” Butusov wrote in a Facebook post.
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