July 24, 2024

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Too few soldiers: Ukraine also recruits in prisons

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Ukraine warToo few soldiers: Ukraine also recruits in prisons

There is a shortage of soldiers in Ukraine. So she turns to a previously untapped potential: men in prison.

  • Ukraine recruits jailed criminals for war against Russia.

  • 3,000 prisoners have already been paroled to serve in the army.

  • Those involved in serious crimes are excluded from the scheme.

Russia’s war of aggression has already lasted more than two years, and Ukraine urgently needs more troops on the battlefield. Hundreds of thousands of additional recruits are now due to be drafted into the service, and for the first time Ukraine is turning to a previously untapped potential in its recruitment: incarcerated criminals.

More than 3,000 prisoners have already been paroled and assigned to military units after parliament approved this type of recruitment in May under a controversial mobilization law, Ukrainian Deputy Justice Minister Olena Vysotska told the AP news agency. The ministry estimates that approximately 27,000 convicts could be eligible for the new scheme. According to Vysotska, a driving motive for many potential candidates is “rather than returning home from prison a hero.”

“It’s stupid to sit here and do nothing”

Ernest Wolwatch wants to accept the offer. The 27-year-old was sentenced to two years in a penal colony in Dnipropetrovsk region for robbery. He works in the kitchen there, filling bowls with food. “It’s stupid to sit here and do nothing,” says Volwach, who says he wants to “do something for Ukraine” and has been offered to join the army since the start of the war. Now he has his chance.

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Volodymyr, 30, who makes metal bolts in a prison camp workshop, has other plans. He says he wants to voluntarily join the armed forces when he finishes his sentence in a year, but not now because he doesn’t have home leave under the parole program.

Before possible release, prisoners are interviewed and undergo a medical examination. Also those convicted of rape, other sexual assaults, murders of two or more persons or crimes against national security are not eligible for this scheme.

Recruiting is not like it is in Russia

Ukrainian officials are careful to distinguish between their offer and the recruitment of prison inmates for Russia’s notorious Wagner mercenary group. Those fighters were usually engaged in deadly battles, but the Ukrainian plan aims to integrate those released into regular Ukrainian units on the front lines.

Those who qualify for parole are quickly sent to camps where they learn how to use weapons and other essential combat skills. Training is supplemented and completed later after integration into individual units.

The situation in Ukrainian prisons

About 42,000 people are imprisoned in Ukraine, according to government figures provided to the European Union. Although recent reforms have reduced the number of inmates and improved conditions in some facilities, there has been ongoing criticism from outside about the treatment of some inmates. In its 2023 human rights report, the U.S. State Department said of credible reports of “degrading treatment or punishment” by prison officials.

“I will be very useful in battle”

Mychajlo, who was released, completed an assault course and says that after months of relative inactivity in prison, the physical demands of climbing into armored personnel carriers and tackling obstacle courses are difficult to meet.

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“I decided to join the Ukrainian volunteer army because I have a family at home, children, parents,” the 29-year-old says, having to drown out the noise from a nearby shooting range. “I will be very useful in battle.”

Deputy Justice Minister Wysoszka said interest in the probation program has exceeded expectations. It could bring in 5,000 new recruits and “that will certainly help”.

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(DBA/Vocational School)