Ukraine bolsters its army ranks with convicts

As a soldier in Ukraine’s Presidential Brigade, Volodymyr Barandich protected the country’s head of state in the perilous early days of Moscow’s full-scale invasion, when Russian special forces were under orders to kill or capture Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Then an old drugs charge caught up with him. In December Barandich was convicted of distributing narcotics and sentenced to four to eight years behind bars.

But thanks to a new law that makes thousands of Ukraine’s convicted felons eligible for early release if they enlist in the army, Barandich may once again be able to serve his country and get a shot at redemption. 

“I am ready to go wherever they send me,” he said from inside the prison where he is awaiting approval to rejoin the war effort. “I want to kill more Russians.”

Initially reluctant to recruit prisoners — a practice Russia has engaged in since the early days of its 2022 invasion — Ukraine has released thousands of convicted criminals for frontline deployment since May, according to justice minister Denys Maliuska.

The scheme differed from Russia’s prison release programme in that it applied “higher standards”, he told the Financial Times. Some 2,872 prisoners had been released under the initiative from among 5,196 applicants while 368 had been rejected for health reasons, Maliuska said.

The new law would help his country fill a critical shortage of infantry troops and bolster its frontline defences, he added.

“Within the prison system, there are many good people who could be useful on the front,” Maliuska said. “This is a good window of opportunity to start their life on a new page.”

Eight Ukrainian convicts rest in a field during a training session in the Kharkiv region
Ukrainian convicts on a break during military training. Serial murderers, sex offenders and people convicted of crimes related to national security are barred from the early-release programme © Roman Pilipey/AFP/Getty Images

The Ukrainian government granted the FT access to a penal colony in the Kyiv region, from where more than 100 convicted felons had already been released for military service. Dozens more were interested in signing up there and at several other prisons, Maliuska said.

Speaking behind heavily fortified walls, several prisoners said they were seeking freedom and personal redemption. Others were motivated by higher wages, enabling them to support their families while performing their patriotic duty.

The first prisoners released under the programme were already undergoing military training, which would last at least two months, Maliuska said. They are expected to be sent to the front lines by the end of summer.

The early-release programme is the latest in a series of measures taken by Kyiv aimed at mobilising hundreds of thousands more men to replace casualties and exhausted soldiers.

The government has cut the draft age from 27 to 25, increased salaries and home leave for troops and ended consular services for men of conscription age who fled abroad.

Under a law signed by Zelenskyy in April, all men aged between 18 and 60 must update their personal data either in person at a military conscription office or by uploading it on the Reserve+ mobile app by July 16. 

Individual military units have also launched public campaigns to lure fresh recruits by offering “choose your own adventure” deployments that allow recruits to pick the unit they want to serve in, and in some cases their precise role.

But the measures look likely to still leave Kyiv short of replacements for the tens of thousands of troops killed in action since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the subsequent conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Kyiv’s true casualty figures are a closely guarded secret but Zelenskyy has said that at least 31,000 have been killed in the line of duty in the past 28 months. The government said that the number of soldiers killed and wounded is more than 100,000.

On the Russian side, western officials estimate that more than 350,000 soldiers have died or been injured in the war since the start of the Kremlin’s 2022 invasion.

A Ukrainian military instructor teaches prisoners how to use a grenade launcher
The first Ukrainian prisoners released under the new programme are expected to be sent to the front lines by the end of summer © Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Maliuska said the initial drive to enlist convicts was expected to yield roughly 5,000 new recruits and that the number could treble “under the best of circumstances”.

That would account for only a fraction of the 400,000 or more fresh troops some Ukrainian military officials and western analysts say are needed to hold back Russia’s forces.

Maliuska said there were significant differences between Kyiv’s prison recruitment drive and Moscow’s, in which tens of thousands of Russian convicts have been released to fight in Ukraine, including serial killers and rapists. Many of the Russian fighters were recruited by the late Yevgeny Prigozhin to his Wagner paramilitary group and served as assault forces in the bloodiest battles of the war.

In Ukraine, those convicted of serial murders, sexual violence and crimes related to national security are barred from the early-release programme. Former high-ranking politicians jailed for corruption are also not allowed to enlist.

To qualify, prisoners must undergo a series of physical and psychological tests, as well as interviews with prison and military officials. They must also have at least three years remaining of their sentence and be no older than 57.

If accepted, the men would serve in special units until the war ended or they were demobilised, Maliuska said.

Prisoners wait in line for lunch in a prison in the Dnipropetrovsk region
Convicts have lunch in a Ukrainian prison. Justice minister Denys Maliuska says the strict command structure in prison produces adaptable conscripts © Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

At the moment, Ukraine has no law on demobilisation, a main point of tension between the military and parliament, which sought to pass a law earlier this year but then withdrew it. The prospect of indefinite service is one of the big factors deterring people from joining up.

If the convicts fail to complete their military service or try to escape, they could face up to 10 more years in prison.

Commanders had already visited prisons across Ukraine in search of motivated and able-bodied fighters, Maliuska said, adding: “There is a competition now to find the best soldiers.”

Convicts’ experience in the prison system meant they were used to a strict command structure, he argued. “In terms of adaptability, these people are better than ordinary conscripts.”

They were also highly motivated by the prospect of being “immediately granted a better life”, where they were paid and respected for their service, he added.

Artur, 27, who is serving more than five years for robbery, said he agreed to sign up to show his wife and infant daughter he is more than just his conviction. He is also motivated by his desire to “waste Russians” after witnessing what he described as unspeakable horrors carried out against his community in Hostomel outside Kyiv in the first month of the invasion.

Maksym, a 32-year-old inmate 14 months into a nearly 10-year sentence for causing grievous bodily harm, is also ready to go to war. A former radio signalman for the Ukrainian army based in Sevastopol in Crimea in 2011, he has military experience he believes may be useful and gives him a chance to turn his life around — even though his family thinks he should sit it out.

“I feel that [in the army] I will be much more effective and useful than in prison,” he said. “I believe I will be like a fish in water.”

Source link

Content Disclaimer and Copyright Notice
Content Disclaimer

The content provided on this website is sourced from various RSS feeds and other publicly available sources. We strive to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information, and we always provide source links to the original content. However, we are not responsible for the content’s accuracy or any changes made to the original sources after the information is aggregated on our site.

Fair Use and Copyright Notice

This website may contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We believe this constitutes a “fair use” of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *