In a bid to strengthen its military ranks, Ukraine has initiated the release of the first prisoners under a new scheme offering parole to convicts willing to fight.

This move, announced by a regional court on Wednesday, May 22, comes as Kyiv faces a pressing need for troops on the front lines.

According to government sources, over 3,000 convicts have expressed their willingness to join the military following the recent enactment of a law facilitating this recruitment.

This strategy mirrors Russia’s controversial practice, where tens of thousands of prisoners have been sent to fight in Ukraine with promises of amnesty since the onset of the invasion in February 2022.

A court in Khmelnytsky, a western city, reported that on Tuesday, May 22, it granted parole to two men convicted of theft, allowing them to join the National Guard. One of the men was born in 2000 and the other in 1981.

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"The court approved their petitions, directing the Khmelnytsky Detention Centre to release the men on parole for contracted military service immediately," the court's statement read.

The court confirmed that both men met the necessary health, psychological, and physical fitness standards for military service.

Upon release, these men will be under supervision and will require permission from their commanders for any personal travel or absences from their military units.

This parole scheme is open only to prisoners with fewer than three years remaining on their sentences. It aims to enhance troop numbers as Ukraine's forces face significant strain.

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Unlike Russia, which offers pardons, Ukraine's initiative grants parole, not a full pardon. Russia's program has faced severe criticism, with reports of released prisoners committing violent crimes, including murder, post-service.

The Verkhovna Rada passed a law on May 8, allowing prisoners serving time to voluntarily enlist into the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). According to the law, individuals serving sentences have the right to be released early in order to join the AFU.

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While most prisoners will be eligible for early release, the draft law prohibits the mobilization of individuals convicted of the most serious offences, such as:

  • Crimes that threaten the national security of Ukraine
  • Premeditated murder of two or more people
  • Rape, sexual violence, molestation of minors
  • Causing death while driving under the influence
  • Illegal drug-related activities
  • Corruption offenses.

So that means that murderers can serve?

Indeed, they can. The law allows individuals who have committed murder or manslaughter to join the AFU.

However, the law stipulates that individuals who have committed two or more premeditated murders are not eligible.

“As far as I recall the text of the law, there is no restriction on persons who have committed a single murder, only on those who have committed double or triple murder,” criminal lawyer Konstantin Padalka explained. “But it’s crucial to understand that circumstances surrounding each murder can vary.”

The rationale behind the decision is that for some commanders, an otherwise upstanding individual who happened – either mistakenly in a fit of rage – to kill someone might be preferable to someone inclined to dishonesty or chronic debauchery.

You can find more information on the law allowing prisoners serving time to voluntarily enlist in the Armed Forces of Ukraine here.

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