Ukraine’s lawmakers rebuffed a controversial military-mobilization bill on Thursday saying it's unconstitutional.

“Some provisions directly violate human rights, some are not optimally formulated,” David Arakhamia, the head of the ruling Servant of the People Party said in remarks to the press about the proposed legislation.

Kyiv is looking to mobilize approximately a half-million people to counter the approximately 600,000 Russian invasion forces – this, at a time when the ground counteroffensive hasn’t lived up to expectations and military aid from Western allies is delayed or isn’t covering defense needs.

To conscript more men into the military, a government working group has proposed a draft law which, though it avoids the unpopular measure of drafting women – something many believe Ukrainians would oppose – calls for lowering the age of military service from 27 to 25 and for stricter penalties for draft dodgers.

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Mobilizing a lot of people will also require a lot of funding – perhaps Hr.500 billion (nearly $13.2 billion), President Volodymyr Zelensky said in December, not long after he said the military came to him proposing mobilizing 450,000-500,000 more people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Latvia Jan. 11. PHOTO: AFP

Ukraine’s army chief, Valery Zaluzhyny said that he needs half a million more people to be drafted this year to battle Russia’s ongoing invasion.

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Following the bill’s rebuff by lawmakers earlier in the day Thursday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov wrote on Facebook in the evening that his working group – the one that wrote the draft law and which includes representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the General Staff, and other government agencies – has already made a newer version, taking concerns voiced about it into account.

“We are ready to submit it for the Government’s approval in the near future,” Umerov said.

In the same post, Umerov was critical of those he claimed “politicized” the draft law.

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Rustem Umerov (L) in Nov. 2023.  PHOTO: Handout / Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / AFP

What is proposed?

The draft law lowers the age of mandatory military service from 27 to 25 years.

It puts the responsibility for carrying out mobilization with local Territorial Recruitment Centers (TRCs) organized by village and city councils.

Currently, a draftee can be delivered a summons by a draft officer on the street or have one sent to their home address. However, under the draft law, they could also get the summons via e-mail or delivered to them while they’re at work. The next day – barring weather, illness, or the death of a loved one – they would have to report to their local TRC.

“If they are of mobilization age, then they should help Ukraine. And they should be in Ukraine” – Zelensky

Under the draft law, some people with disabilities would also be newly eligible for conscription. The government classifies disabilities into three categories. The most severe disabilities, groups one and two, would remain ineligible for mobilization, but those in group three, with less severe disabilities – a missing finger or blindness in one eye, for example – could be mobilized.

While men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave the country, those who’ve already left cannot be called up for military service.

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“If they are of mobilization age, then they should help Ukraine. And they should be in Ukraine,” Zelensky told a press conference Thursday.

The draft law proposes requiring Ukrainian men abroad to have up-to-date military registration – which is obtained at draft offices.

If a man seeks consular services abroad – for example, a new passport – he’d have to show his military registration documents to get government services.

The draft law also proposes new restrictions on draft dodgers entered into a “Unified Register of Debtors,” which would include:

  • no traveling abroad (already the case for men between 18 and 60 except under special circumstances)
  • no driving
  • no buying or selling certain property
  • no credit or loan agreements
  • no state benefits or services

Under the draft law, the penalties would cease when the person’s name was removed from the Register of Debtors.

On the other side of things – where there’s currently no limit on wartime military service, the draft law proposes discharging soldiers after 36 months of continuous service under martial law.

Some soldiers have been fighting since the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – now close to two years ago.

Verkhovna Rada Meeting, May 2022. PHOTO: WikiCommons

The controversy

Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Commission said that the draft law has risks, such as local authorities being overly arbitrary in their decisions.

The commission is calling for clearer terms on how the TRC would enter people’s names onto the Unified Register of Debtors.

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It’s seeking more specifics on how the penalties would be implemented – for example, how restrictions on property transactions would be applied.

“The draft law cannot directly violate the rights that are specified as fundamental in the Constitution” – Lubinets

Anastasia Radina, a lawmaker in Zelensky’s Servant of the People party and part of the Anti-Corruption Commission said that because there are valid reasons why a person might not come to the TRC the day after receiving their summons – for example, they fell ill or there was a bad weather event – their name shouldn’t be entered onto the Unified Register of Debtors the very next day.

National Bank Deputy Head Kateryna Rozhkova said it could be difficult to implement some of the financial penalties proposed.

“Information about each specific person that is in banks can only be disclosed in individual cases, on the internet, by court decision,” Rozhkova said. “I do not see this opportunity within the framework of the existing legislation.”

“I will repeat once again that I need people, I need ammunition, I need weapons to continue” – Zaluzhny

“The draft law cannot directly violate the rights that are specified as fundamental in the Constitution. During my first analysis, I saw that some norms contradict the Constitution,” Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said.

Ukraine’s commander

“I will repeat once again that I need people, I need ammunition, I need weapons to continue,” Ukraine’s commander-in-chief told a press conference on Dec. 26 – his first since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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Zaluzhny said conscripting 500,000 soldiers accounts for the military’s current plans and possible losses.

While Zaluzhny didn’t claim credit for the proposal that draftees get summoned by e-mail, he said whatever helps get soldiers to the front “will be good.”

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny in Dec. 2021. PHOTO: WikiCommons

As for the draft law’s provision on conscripting people with level three disabilities, Zaluzhny said the matter is ultimately decided by a military medical commissioner anyway.

As for demobilization, it will be difficult to predict because it depends on the Kremlin’s actions, Zaluzhny said.

“Of course, I would like people who join the army, and especially those who are already serving in the army, to clearly understand how long they will have to fight,” Zaluzhny said.

But whether soldiers can be released after 36 months of service will depend on there not being an escalation – and on the availability of someone to replace them.

In 2025, for someone to replace those who’ve been serving since the start of the full-scale war, it will require more soldiers drafted this year, Zaluzhny said.

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