Ukraine Moves on Mobilization Bill as Troop Numbers Raise Alarm

Ukrainian soldiers rest during military training in Poland
Ukrainian soldiers rest during a military training with French servicemen at a military training compound at an undisclosed location in Poland, on April 4, 2024. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Ukrainian lawmakers are forging ahead with controversial legislation to recruit more troops as worries mount that a lack of manpower is hurting the country’s front-line forces.

The bill on mobilization aims to tighten registration rules, narrow exemptions from military service and introduce some penalties in an effort to bolster the ranks of front-line troops. Ukrainian forces are grappling with ammunition and personnel shortages as they hold the line against a renewed Russian offensive.

The draft, which had been weighed down by some 4,000 amendments, was approved by parliament’s security and defense committee in Kyiv on Tuesday. It will be debated in the chamber this week with a number of lawmakers saying the measure could be approved as early as Friday.

“We are speaking to the parliament to pass the legislation in coming days,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview with a group of Ukrainian broadcasters on Saturday.

Zelenskyy’s party controls a majority in the assembly, known as the Rada, ostensibly ensuring passage for a bill that’s been watered down as it faced public resistance. But Oleksii Honcharenko, a member of the opposition, said the draft will still require compromise on a number of provisions.

The president last week signed legislation to lower the conscription age to 25 from 27 after it had sat on his desk for almost a year. Contending with a public exhausted by war, Zelenskyy had sought a more comprehensive mobilization plan, including an outline for troop rotations and potential time limits on military service.

The military’s push to draft more soldiers became a source of contention between Zelenskyy and his generals — and was part of the backdrop of the president’s decision in February to dismiss his popular army chief, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. But the military has maintained pressure for additional manpower as Kremlin troops take advantage of Ukraine’s depleted ammunition stocks.

‘We lack people’

“No matter how much help we get, how many weapons we have — we lack people,” the commander of Ukraine’s ground troops, Oleksandr Pavliuk, said in a Facebook post on Monday.

After capturing the eastern city of Avdiivka earlier this year, Russian troops have unleashed their firepower all along the frontline and made marginal advances. Kremlin troops are seeking to capture strategically key spots, such as the town of Chasiv Yar, west of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Meanwhile, a $60 billion U.S. aid package continues to be blocked by Republicans in Congress, with House Speaker Mike Johnson yet to call a vote as he seeks to prevent a rebellion from hard-liners in his ranks.

The holdup has made the situation on the ground all the more critical. At the behest of military commander Oleksandr Syrskyi, lawmakers removed a provision in the draft calling for 36 months of conscription service — a time limit meant to assuage reluctant recruits, Honcharenko said. That was considered to be a blow for many front-line soldiers and their families hoping for some rest after more than two years on the battlefield.

The bill includes requirements to update registry information for potential draftees as well as penalties such as revoking driver’s licenses for those evading conscription. Other proposals, such as freezing bank accounts, were removed from draft legislation amid public protest. A separate bill introduces stiffer penalties for evaders.

Officials in Kyiv have been reluctant to offer any estimates on how many soldiers the mobilization drive will muster. Still, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told Bloomberg last month that an initial military request to draft as many as 500,000 troops wasn’t necessary.

The mobilization legislation will come into effect no earlier than a month after its publication, Zelenskyy has said.


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