Ukraine releases first convicts to fill military ranks

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Nearly 350 inmates have already been freed, while some 4,000 more applications are being considered by the courts, the country’s justice minister has said

Ukraine has already enlisted nearly 350 newly freed inmates in its military under a new program that provides parole in exchange for service, according to Ukrainian Justice Minister Denis Maliuska.

Speaking to the New York Times on Friday, the minister revealed that more than 4,300 prisoners have submitted applications to join the military and thus gain their freedom.

Most of the applications of those not yet released are currently being considered by courts, Maliuska stated, adding that the country expects to bolster the ranks of its military by up to 20,000 people through the scheme. 

Enlisting prisoners helps alleviate both shortages of military personnel and “difficulties” with drafting the general population, the minister admitted.

The deficit of soldiers – of course, the difficulties with the draft of ordinary citizens – those were the main reasons for the law.

The law enabling some prisoners to be paroled if they enlist was approved by Vladimir Zelensky earlier this month. According to the legislation, the mechanism will be in effect for as long as the country remains under martial law. The option to enlist is available only to convicts with no more than three years left on their sentence, while those convicted of serious crimes, such as premeditated murder, rape, and drug trafficking, are not eligible.

The drive to enlist convicts comes as part of a broader initiative by Kiev to fill the ranks of its military. Ukraine launched a mobilization drive in the early days of the conflict, but the process became increasingly violent and lawless over time. Numerous videos circulating online purport to show enlistment officers engaging in coercive behavior such as chasing potential recruits in the streets, raiding public transportation, and brawling with draft dodgers.

Last month, Zelensky signed a controversial mobilization law that lowered the conscription age from 27 to 25, greatly expanded the powers of enlistment officers, and introduced additional penalties for draft dodgers. 

While Ukraine claims to have lost only 31,000 servicemen killed since the beginning of the hostilities in February 2022, the actual tally is widely believed to be in the hundreds of thousands. According to estimates voiced by then-Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu earlier this month, Kiev’s forces have lost more than 111,000 soldiers since the beginning of the year alone.

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