These Ukrainians who live in fear of being called up to fight |

These Ukrainians who live in fear of being called up to fight |

In Kyiv and Lviv (Ukraine).

We drive at full speed on the desolate and empty streets of northern Kiev. We only brake at checkpoints, at destroyed bridges, at all the scars of war. Hair in the wind, Oleksii* pushes his muscle car hard. He stares fixedly at the horizon, a setting sun over Kyiv. Before February 24, the date of the beginning of the Russian invasion, he worked in the film industry. He now drives for others.

“There are rumours. And since then, people have been afraid, he begins. In Ukraine we have Diia. A government application that centralizes all our administrative documents in digital format. All Ukrainians have it, and since the beginning of the war it was very useful: many refugees who had to give up everything in a matter of seconds were able to find essentials [de leurs papiers]. The problem now is that this application geolocates…”

Oleksii pauses before continuing: “Some say the government will use this application to massively mobilize conscripts and then locate them immediately and accurately… No chance of escaping conscription.” This rumor remains unfounded for now: The Ukrainian government does not use Diia to train its troops and geolocation of the application can be blocked in settings.

The fear of mobilization

On the other hand, this rumor reflects a real fear in Ukraine: that mobilization and all the restrictions inherent in it will become even more severe – mobilization means not only imposing a military obligation, but also facilitating a possible lifting of the mass. Since February 24, the first and toughest of these restrictions has been in force: now no Ukrainian man between the ages of 18 and 60 is allowed to leave the territory.

On July 5, the army suddenly announced that no more men would be allowed to leave the area where they lived. The outcry was so great that Volodymyr Zelenskyy had to restore the situation that same evening – and moreover his authority. Freedom of movement has now been restored in Ukraine, provided you can justify your travels.

Oleksii puts it into perspective: “It was the way the army announced this restriction that caused the scandal. In practice, nothing has changed. We cannot run away from conscription, and above all we are all subject to it.”

Many malfunctions

Alexei* worked in a recruitment center in Lviv in the west of the country. “I’m now part of a battalion closer to the front,” he says. What Alexei witnessed during his time in recruitment were mainly mobilization disorders: “Before they turn 18, all young Ukrainian men have to go to the recruitment center. They pass medical tests, they also give their contact details… If they are declared fit, they are put on the list of those who can be mobilized,” he explains.

“However, we do not want to massively mobilize too young people in Ukraine who are between 18 and 27 years old. We therefore primarily target veterans, men who have graduated from the military academy or have just completed their service. Then, then, voluntary men, not too young, but still in their prime. The problem is that our mobilizer lists are no longer valid. The data is no longer updated: one or the other may have changed their phone number, another may have moved… I would say that 80% of the data on the list of those who can be mobilized are out of date.”

Alexei’s conclusion is bitter: “Well, if you have an urgent situation, a commander who needs people quickly, but we don’t have anyone who is suitable according to the criteria just mentioned … Well, we take people with no experience, the first ones we can take.” , What ever.

conscription as a punishment

These shortcomings are all the more accentuated as Ukraine’s old demons never look too far. On the repressive level, conscription has become a new punishment: those who do not respect the law now have to go to the recruitment center instead of jail or a fine – which can legally mobilize anyone who is a Ukrainian immediately.

Conscription is also fertile ground when it comes to corruption. In Moldova, we talk a lot about these customs officers who bought several thousand dollars from Ukrainian men trying to flee the country. In Ukraine, corruption takes another form. Alexei confirms: “Obviously. For example, a false medical certificate can be issued for thousands of dollars… We may be at war, but Ukraine remains.”

In addition to these real malfunctions, the mobilization machinery remains primarily set in motion by the war itself: the losses that have to be replaced at the front and the long lines that have to be held for thousands of kilometers.

“Bureaucratic Mess”

Yegen*, who comes from Lemberg, was into music. He’s in his thirties and has absolutely no military experience. Not very tall, fairly skinny… Given his looks, no one would predestine him for a career in the army. He was mobilized overnight. He says: “One Saturday night I have dinner with my wife. A soldier rings the doorbell. Before he opens his mouth, I know why he’s there. he is polite Here I am mobilized, that’s all, I’m not trying to drive freely. The soldier tells me that the recruitment center is open 24 hours a day, then he leaves. I want to get it over with quickly, plan my future as best I can: I’m leaving the next day.”

Yegen then went to doctor appointments and moved from one center to another. The failures multiply: It was “the bureaucratic brothel par excellence. The commission doesn’t care and only asks for papers that we don’t get… A young soldier even threatened me, told me that if I wasn’t more motivated, I’d end up in a trench.”

Despite this, the army eventually tries to integrate Yegen into a corps where his specific skills are most useful: “In the end, two men, polite, normal, ask me what I do for a living, my talents … They say I’m a brain, not one Muscle. I also speak English so maybe I could go abroad and train there. Maybe, if not, I’ll end up in artillery, use computers, drones… I’ve got ten days to pack my things, then I’ll go to training.

Irina*, Yegen’s wife, puts it in her own way: “When the first soldier came to us, he left with an apology: ‘I’m sorry I ruined your evening.'”

*Names have been changed.