Following Kyiv’s introduction of the long-awaited new mobilization law on April 16 to help fill the ranks to fend off Moscow’s invasion, many Ukrainian men might soon receive the call to defend their motherland.

While the new amendments allowed those who wanted to volunteer to choose specific units, they also lowered the minimum age of mobilization from 27 to 25 and replaced conscription with mandatory basic military training and introduced restrictions for those evading their call of duty.

Between the horrors of war and the obligations to home and country, many have found it difficult to make the right decision – if there’s one.

Resistance to being called up is quite a common occurrence. Remember the draft dodgers in the US in the 1960s who fled to Canada and elsewhere to evade fighting in Vietnam. But then, in the present case of Ukraine, this an existential struggle for the country’s survival on its own native soil.

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So what explanations are being given by those at home and abroad who are less than keen to fulfil their duty before their land and its people?

The horrors of war

“Then, after a while, when the ‘truth of war’ began to break through [...] the desire became less and less.”

Dima, a 29-year-old real estate manager, told Kyiv Post he wanted to fight for Ukraine in the initial days as news of heroic battles spread far and wide, but the gritty reality soon hit home – including words from friends who witnessed the horrors firsthand.

“At the beginning of the war, on the rise of the unification of the whole country and a lot of information about how we heroically repel the offensive, I wanted to go,” he said.

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“Plus, there were a lot of videos then, how Azov destroys [Russian troops] in [Mariupol], how our troops are [fighting them off] in other directions, and this really inspired some kind of desire to become a part of all these battles,” Dima recalled.

But as the war dragged on, the horrors of war also reached home.

“Then, after a while, when the ‘truth of war’ began to break through [...] the desire became less and less. Plus friends who are fighting, who say: ‘Do everything you can to avoid getting here.’”

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Obligations to home or country

“[My wife] says we lost our home already when the Russians invaded Donbas, and that’s enough sacrifice for one family.”

But not everyone reluctant to volunteer did so out of fear. For people like 44-year-old Oleksandr who works with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry as a security operative and hails from the Donbas region himself, work and family obligations are also important.

“In the Ministry, from time to time, we get these messages calling on staff members to stop civilian work and join the military and help fight. I have thought about it, but for one thing, I am a government worker and my job is not completely without risk.”

“But also, my work is specialized and requires a lot of training and if I leave then it’s not for sure the ministry will be able to find a replacement easily,” Oleksandr told Kyiv Post.

There’s also the question of how much a person could sacrifice before it’s too much.

“My wife is very opposed to my being in the army. She says we lost our home already when the Russians invaded Donbas, and that’s enough sacrifice for one family,” Oleksandr added.

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“I'm not going to volunteer because it would upset my family, but if I have to go, I will go.”

For another Oleksandr living in a village outside Kyiv, who’s now 20 years old – which would exempt him from the current mobilization – it’s a difficult call between obligations to his family and his country.

“My parents want me to hide from the draft and try to leave Ukraine. They are patriots but they don’t want me to get hurt. I guess I am like most guys. I’m not going to volunteer because it would upset my family, but if I have to go, I will go I guess,” he told Kyiv Post.

He also highlighted the contribution to the motherland from those who are not fighting.

“Right now, I have a good job [in logistics] and we are very busy. My bosses say they will do everything possible to keep people like me in our jobs because our company moves freight all over Ukraine.”

“We ship things for soldiers all the time. So the economy needs shipping companies like ours and it’s not like we’re not helping the army and just making money,” he added. 

For some, the reluctance comes from a lack of trust in the government and indicates an invisible social divide.

Distrust in the government and the invisible social divide

“It’s like you’re an animal that's being caught to be slaughtered.”

Andriy, a 31-year-old architect, was quick to point out that “the desire to live” and his belief that there’s a lack of government support have prevented him from volunteering.

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“Let’s be honest, now everything has been done so that the agenda is a one-way ticket. You can return either with a serious injury, a cripple, or in a coffin.

“If you are killed, they will do everything not to pay money to your family for your death; If you are disabled, then there will be no support from the state; If you do come back and you are lucky, then there is no question of any state support or rehabilitation,” Andriy told Kyiv Post.

He also raised concerns about the scandals concerning the military recruitment office, where there were cases of military commission officers outright grabbing people from the streets.

“Vans and military officers, catching men straight from the street, are an excellent demotivation. It’s like you’re an animal that's being caught to be slaughtered,” he added.

“Everything that is happening in Ukraine now can be described as follows: the poor are fighting, and the elite are thugging.”

Max, a Kyiv native in his 20s, also questioned the legitimacy of the new law and said it violates the Constitution by limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens. Moreover, he criticized the government for introducing more punishments rather than incentives.

“In this ‘law’ they worked so hard on how to punish us instead of working on how to benefit soldiers, provide them with [the] best possible support and clear contract terms,” Max told Kyiv Post.

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Sofiia, a 32-year-old IT worker exempted from the mobilization at present, said the new law is harsh though it’s not without merits. However, she also questioned why the lawmakers were not fighting the war themselves, which highlighted a level of distrust towards the institution amongst some Ukrainians.

“On the one hand, men who have three or more children and do not care for them must prove their responsibility. This is a good sign,” Sofiia told Kyiv Post.

“On the other hand, why are civil servants, such as deputies, still not subject to mobilization? This makes people demotivated and hopeless to change for the benefit of people in the future because the system seems to be not changing,” she said.

“Everyone simply hesitates to give their life and freedom to the army without knowing there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Like Andriy, 31-year-old IT salesman Nick is also doubtful of the government and military commission’s practices, though he understands the need to replenish the ranks to fight against Russia.

“I heard a story about a freshly mobilized person, who died because of epilepsy right after the medical check-up in the recruitment center,” Nick told Kyiv Post.

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“The recruitment centers and their representatives often outsource local thugs to do the dirty work. And those guys can simply beat the dude [who’s] refusing to go with them. They can simply stop the bus and deliver all males [on] it to the recruitment center. When I see that my patriotism fades away without a trace,” Nick said.

“When did we become Russia, mate?” he asked.

Not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

The omission of demobilization in the new law – as proposed by many during its discussion – has also led to pessimism among some Ukrainians like Nick.

“Well, the law should’ve been introduced ages ago and should’ve looked different. They started promoting it as a demobilization-mobilization law, and now they left only conscription.”

“I know it leaves a lot of guys in the army speechless, but all in all, everyone understands that we need more people to fight Russians back,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to my friends about the issue, everyone simply hesitates to give their life and freedom to the army without knowing there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. Since there’s no demobilization law passed through [Verkhovna] Rada, only promises of that,” he added.

However, as Nick pointed out, there have been positive examples in army recruitment.

“Examples of 3rd separate assault brigade show the recruitment, unlike the violent mobilization, [works], and [works] great. There [are] a lot of folks around willing to fight Russians directly, and they are willingly going to the local brigade’s recruiters.”

“And I never heard about the professional shortage in that brigade, they are [only] lacking Western weaponry to be more effective,” he said.

Nick said health problems have also prevented him from enlisting, but if duty calls, he will fight.

“I won't hide from the whole thing, but it bothers me a bit. I have a legit asthma though, who knows what will happen,” he added.

The current challenge

Some say that it’s hard to understand is why the Ukrainian government left it so late to ensure that full and proper mobilization at such a critical moment in the nation’s history is carried out. Now, it has to make up for lost time and convince those who assumed that they could evade the call up that it is their turn to replenish the depleted and exhausted ranks of those who have heroically defended the country for so long, they comment.

The good news from the US is that the long-awaited replenishment of the arms that Ukraine so badly needs might now persuade some of those who have been reluctant to join the armed forces that the time to do so is more conspicuous.

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