Ukraine to allow some convicted prisoners to shore up army as Russians push ahead

Ukraine to allow some convicted prisoners to shore up army as Russians push ahead

Ukraine is enlisting convicted prisoners in its army fighting the Russian invasion as the Volodymyr Zelensky regime struggles to replenish manpower on the frontline.

Reeling under an intensifying Russian offensive, Kyiv is running out of manpower and material to continue waging the war after over two years and rotate out its exhausted and outnumbered frontline soldiers.

To make up some of this shortfall, the Ukrainian parliament now passed a bill on Wednesday to raise several thousand new soldiers from a pool of up to 20,000 convicts. It’s pending Mr Zelensky’s signature to become law.

However, not all prisoners would be allowed to enlist.

Those convicted of serious crimes such as rape, sexual violence, premediated murder of two or more people, terrorism, dealing drugs and treason wouldn’t be permitted to swap their sentences for a chance to help Kyiv repel the Russian offensive. Nor those convicted of national security crimes and serious corruption, Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko said.

“It’s no secret that the mobilisation resource of our energy is huge and therefore we should use all available opportunities to fight back armed aggression,” a note attached to the bill said.

“Some of these people are motivated and patriotic citizens who are ready to redeem themselves before society on the battlefield,” the note added, referring to the convicts.

Ukrainian military leaders have cited the lack of manpower and the paucity of ammunition, especially artillery shells, as the key reasons for Russia regaining the initiative on the frontline in recent months.

Mr Honcharenko said a convict seeking to enlist in the army would be required to file a written appeal to the head of their prison and they would be granted conditional probation if cleared by a court. "This must happen only by the convict’s own will," the lawmaker said. “Prisoners are not forced to mobilise.”

Mr Zelensky’s regime has employed sometimes coercive ways to increase mobilisation as Ukrainians have sought to dodge the draft, including by fleeing the country in their thousands.

In December, Mr Zelensky called mobilisation a “sensitive matter” while citing the army’s proposal to mobilise 450,000 to 500,000 more people to fight back the Russian forces. Ukraine’s military is heavily outgunned and outnumbered by the Russian forces.

In another attempt to shore up its military, Kyiv last month reduced the draft mobilisation age from 27 to 25 years. The Zelensky regime has also overhauled rules governing mobilisation of civilians into the military.

On the frontline, meanwhile, the Russians are advancing in the east and Ukraine is bracing for a big offensive later this spring or in summer.

To hold the line, analysts have said, Kyiv needs a significant inflow of weapons from the West and more soldiers to replenish its ranks.