For most young men, turning 18 brings with it some monumental and potentially life-changing decisions – work or university? Gap year or straight to campus? Follow your friends or venture out on your own?

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, 17-year-old Ukrainian boys have been faced with one much more difficult and fundamentally life-altering choice – to stay or not to stay?

Under Ukrainian martial law, which has been in place since February of last year, men aged 18 to 60 are prohibited from travelling abroad and are potentially subject to conscription into the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

The AFU have for the most part managed to fill ranks with volunteers and is currently far from the point of needing to conscript as many males as possible as soon as they turn 18, but with no immediate end to the war or martial law in sight, those coming of age face an uncertain future.

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For some, like Ruslan, the prospect of being sent to war was enough to make him decide to leave Ukraine. “I left in February somewhat spontaneously,” he tells Kyiv Post. “The main reason was that I don’t want to fight and none of my relatives want me to either.

“I am a patriot of Ukraine, but I’m definitely not ready to die, especially at such a young age. I am ready to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine as soon as I earn enough money.”

While safer than serving on the front lines, being a 17-year-old civilian in Ukraine can still be dangerous – two were among the four children injured overnight in Russia’s latest missile barrage against the port city of Odesa.

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According to Ukrainian government figures, as of July 22, 496 Ukrainian children had been killed and 1,564 injured since the start of Russia’s full- scale invasion, though the real figure is “not final” and likely far higher.

Ruslan’s mother, Diana, told Kyiv Post: “So far, I’m glad he’s gone. Because in addition to the experience which he will gain and more opportunities for development, he is safe.”

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For other 17-year-olds, worries about potentially being conscripted were displaced by a desire to pursue their chosen careers which they see as best served in their home country.

“I had and still have thoughts about leaving Ukraine,” Daniel tells Kyiv Post. “I thought about what would be best for me and discovered personal pros and cons.

“And the main factor for me is the career that I plan to build in Ukraine – football, which I have been working on for 11 years now already. That’s why I decided to stay in the country.”

 

I am a patriot of Ukraine, but I’m definitely not ready to die.

Asked about the prospect of being called up to fight, 17-year-old Dmytro currently living in Ukraine says the thought “sometimes bothers me” but adds: “It seems to me that they give [call up papers] to guys at the age of 20-21 and those who aren’t studying at university.

“So I hope that the war will end in a few years. But in any case, everything will already be as it will be.”

While staying in Ukraine comes with the many obvious risks of living in a warzone, the prospect of moving abroad raises other, perhaps less lethal but no less valid, concerns for a young adult.

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“I don’t want to leave my family, friends and go into uncertainty, where no one and nothing is waiting for me,” Dmytro says.

Seventeen-year-old designer and dancer ‘SXXY’ similarly feels there are more opportunities for him in Ukraine despite the ongoing war.

Having spent time in two different European countries since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, he came back home “because in Ukraine I feel freer as a creator.”

With an eye to a postwar Ukraine, he adds: “I want to develop our cultural front so that Europe and America pay attention to the prospects of design, choreography and creativity in Ukraine.

“The way we are developing is good, but we need to reach a new level. I want to make sure that our creativity goes beyond the borders of the country more.”

For young men who want to stay in Ukraine but don’t want to be confined to its borders for the duration of martial law, there are a few options that give the best of both worlds.

Seventeen-year-old Leonid has enrolled in Maritime College with the aim of becoming a sailor, a job that would combine training and being based in Ukraine with long periods at sea or abroad, one of the careers exempt from martial law restrictions.

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“I chose the profession of a sailor, perhaps because of a certain romanticization and the ability to travel,” Leonid tells Kyiv Post.

He also believes being at sea could provide some relief from the everyday stresses of living in a warzone, adding: “A big advantage of the profession is also the ability to temporarily separate from everyone and everything that happens on land.”

But for some who are already 18 years old the decision was made for them by having left Ukraine with their families when they were a year younger. Kyrylo, who turned 18 in March, moved to Germany with his family last year.

He’s settled well into his new country and made new friends, but misses his old friends and yearns to take a walk with them and celebrate his old school’s graduation.

“Because in Ukraine, I had already laid the foundation of my life,” he says.

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Comments (15)

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Laslo Pferg
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Early in the war, a Rabbi in Ukraine told his people that they should consider taking a "vacation" outside of the country until the end of conflict. He was criticized for his use of the word "vacation" as well as his lack of an appeal to patriotism.

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idk
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Lotta keyboard warriors in this comment section huh. But who am I to expect Americans to keep quiet about things they will never understand <3

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Tom Fitzgerald
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At 19 I stood ready to defend at all costs my country. Perhaps we were never under direct attack in the USA, but there it is. You have your country, its children, traditions and culture under direct attack. The cause is clear. Do your duty or forever be ashamed.

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Blickity
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I'm not in your shoes to judge you, but you are not a patriot by definition.

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Mark Linder
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Should I die for a corrupt regime that has placed power and profit above the lives of it's youth.

Shame on Lyndon B. Zelensky

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Mark Linder
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US Patriot
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A Patriot is one who is willing to fight for their Country, even unto death. Your Country would be under Russian hands if not for the brave Patriots, who are willing to stay and fight. I am sure non of them were "Ready to Die" either. No one wants to die. Boy "Iluminated" your comment is truly one of the most stupid and uninformed, I have ever read. You are probably one of those useless illegals who sneak into my Country, take from the Citizens and then don't even have the grace to shut up but bash the ones you are sponging off of. If you are here please Get the H&^% out !!!

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Myself
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I feel sorry for the people of Ukraine who suffer because of Putins Ego trip. His WAR CRIMES, did not go unnoticed by the world.

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Tibalt
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The true cowards are Russians who let corrupt little tiny old men do whatever they want. Youth is always cannon fodder for frightened old men like Putin. Russia could end all this in a day if they had any real courage or any decency. Instead they let Putin destroy civilian lives and bomb children and then they lie to themselves and believe in what Putin does …simply because it’s easier than the truth that they are the ones causing all this.

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Illuminated
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The cowards are the United States who are using Ukrainians to fight a proxy war against the Russians. The best thing Ukrainians can do to save their country is to refuse to fight on behalf of America in a useless war as canon fodder. Let the United State sacrifice their own young men if they want to fight a war.

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MAK
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The choice is simple. For Ukrainians, this is your nation and you fight for it.

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Tautau
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Not a story. Men throughout history have had to go fight for their country in a time of war. The option to "flee" is a modern luxury, and is cowardly. That said, this war is corrupt and I understand not wanting to die to fill some foreign politician's pockets.

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Yoshirou kanagawa
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Its Amazing the comments are flooded by the Idiots of the world who critisize things they cant fathom..

The US and the Ukraine started this war. wars arent determined by who dropped the first bomb because there is always a back story. Had Zelenski not been selfish and believed he could fight a proxy for the us being paid billions of American tax dollars, we wouldn't be at the brink of ww3.

If you don't war, dont punch a bear. A bear in general consensus is aggressive if provoked.

There are millions who hate the US and zelenski for whats happened.

Zelenski made this choice for Ukraine behind closed doors. I fear my friends are dead.

Obviously putin is not good....But 1 side doesn't become a hero because hes the underdog. The US supports the underdog because the real hero is sometimes very close to overthrowing the corruption the US started.

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Stimpacker
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Huh, glad KyivPost published this. Makes me wonder why I as an American support Ukraine so strongly when Ukrainian youth are unwilling. Who do they think is dying for their freedom everyday? Who do they think is replacing dead Ukrainian heroes? Who do they think is making the ultimate sacrifice that allows these youths to explore other options?

Yoshirou kanagawa
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@Stimpacker, Its not your life. The US is to blame for all of this. In 2014 Biden and the Obama Administration set this plan to coral putin into a hole and try to make him strike. Just like Japan. Now just like trying to provoke China into invading Taiwan. These are sociopath methods which allways like a sociopath mentality are blind and selfish. In Vietnam 2.5 million people were killed by US troops and that war was to simply get closer to moscow. You are completely ignorant if you dont know Zelenski felt he could sacrifice his own people (6.5million dead before 6 months) because the US enabled him, like the french in Vietnam, to fight on the US's behalf in a proxy war.

Your stupid for believing that war or military training is good or fun.
you should be shot for wanting to see violence unfold at the expense of your ignorance as to who really started this war. and How putin was recklessly provoked. Your stupid.

Yoshirou kanagawa
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@Stimpacker, Typical westerner. You think war is valid? You think it never comes from corruption? Every single war the US has entered on foreign soil is built on lies. The international community sees this and thats what the riots are about. We dont like our lives being held up to the fire for selfish American and western Sociopaths who are mentally screwed up and start wars out of fear of losing power and then, sacrifice Other peoples or scapegoat people then demonize them. The 20 year Afghan war should shed light on the American Bullshite

MAK
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@Yoshirou kanagawa, There you go again, lying and assigning blame everywhere but where it's deserved. You're truly an awful human being.

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dont@me
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@Yoshirou kanagawa, "you should be shot for wanting to see violence unfold" your staggering cognitive dissonance is on display. Unsurprising for a 50 cent soldier. How's your social credit score?

SomeDude
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@dont@me, You're an idiot, dude. His name is obviously not Chinese. How do you stand there and belittle someone else's intelligent with such a stupid statement?

Besides, Yoshi is absolutely right. Those Ukrainian kids aren't dying for their country. They're not dying for honor or patriotism. They are dying for American oligarchs. If you're such a tough guy, so amazing, go join the Foreign Legion otherwise stop acting so pompous because you look like a moron to people who know.

somedude
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@SomeDude, you're an idiot, dude. How american oligarch is related to russians destroying Ukrainian cities?

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Joe
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“I am a patriot of Ukraine, but I’m definitely not ready to die, especially at such a young age. I am ready to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine as soon as I earn enough money.”

This is a disheartening thing to read. This young man is exactly who needs to step up and defend Ukraine. If he is unwilling, there will be no Ukraine left to come home to, and if Ukraine manages to win without him and others, how could he ever come home and show his face.

Jav
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@Joe, the same way we have TONS of politicians who brag about how much they support the military and yet dodged the draft. CCR’s “Fortunate Son” put it the best…

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Josh
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@Joe, it is not fair for any 17th old to die for questionable causes. If young ukrainian people are not willing to die for it, so be it. You cant blame them. Are you willing to die for your country right now in a trench?

MAK
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@Josh, There is NOTHING that is questionable about defending your nation. I can't think of any higher level of cowardice than not defending your nation from a foreign aggressor who has occupied your nation. The moral choices here as clear as they could ever by.

I served my nation for nearly three decades, so don't try asking if I'm willing to die. I was.

Tibalt
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@MAK, I can think of a higher level of cowardice..the Russian people who let frightened little old men like Putin destroy lives of families and children by standing by and doing nothing. the populace of Russia hides behind supporting this frightened fool because they themselves are too afraid to face their own truth …defending your nation from a foreign aggressor is worthy but to allow your nation to commit horrific acts in your name because a tiny tyrant is frightened…to me that’s a higher level of cowardice.

Craine
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@Tibalt,

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