Ukrainian MPs pass law to boost troop numbers

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Members of Ukraine's Siberian battalion on exercises outside KyivImage source, Reuters

Ukraine’s parliament has passed legislation to help mobilise troops to fight invading Russian forces.

The measure – adopted after months of wrangling – is aimed at boosting numbers in the military, which is under severe pressure as Russia continues its advances in the east.

But a clause aimed at demobilising soldiers after three years was dropped at the army’s request.

The president still has to sign the bill into law.

Earlier this month, Volodymyr Zelensky approved other measures, including lowering the age of mobilisation by two years, to 25.

The new legislation passed on Thursday tightens registration processes and strengthens penalties for draft dodgers.

MP Oleksandr Fedienko said, quoted by Reuters, that the bill would send a “message to our partners that we are ready to retake our territory and we need weapons”.

Ukraine’s military has been under severe pressure of late, in part due to Russia’s greater manpower.

A senior general told MPs before the passing of the bill that Ukrainian forces were outnumbered by Russia by between seven and 10 to one.

“We are maintaining our defences with our last strength,” joint forces commander Gen Yuriy Sodol said, quoted by Reuters.

“Pass this law and the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not let down you or the Ukrainian people.”

A total of 283 MPs voted in favour of the bill, but 49 opposition lawmakers abstained.

One of them, Oleksiy Goncharenko, said he could not vote for a bill that excluded demobilisation.

“The main question for those serving and those who might be potentially mobilised [is] ‘how long will I serve?’ Without this, I don’t think the law will improve mobilisation,” he said, quoted by the Financial Times.

Protesters outside the parliament, many of whom have serving relatives, also criticised the exclusion.

“Our boys and girls in the service are very tired. They have been fighting for two years, and no-one is planning to replace them,” Keteryna Kulibaba told Reuters.

“For rotation to happen, newcomers have to know how much time they’ll have to spend [at the frontline].

“Undefined mobilisation terms mean fighting forever. Without strictly defined terms, no-one will join the army.”

The demobilisation issue will now be considered in a separate bill, parliament officials said.

Draconian measures to prevent draft-dodging were also excluded from the latest version of the bill after a public outcry.

The main provisions of the bill, which has not yet been published in full, include:

  • Obliging men aged 18-60 to update personal data with the military authorities and carry draft office registration documents at all times
  • Financial rewards for volunteers
  • Compulsory training for all new recruits before going into combat, and basic military training for those aged 18-25 (ie below the conscription age)
  • People with convictions serving suspended sentences to be allowed to serve in the army
  • Tracking procedure proposed for men of military age living abroad
  • Driving bans for those who do not comply with the requirements of draft authorities

The bill was passed hours after the country was hit by more heavy bombardments by Russia.

More than 80 missiles and drones targeted sites across Ukraine, many of them involving energy infrastructure.

The Trypillya power plant, a key provider of electricity for three regions including Kyiv, was completely destroyed.

Ukraine has been asking Western countries to send more assistance, including ammunition and air defences.

But a $60bn US military aid package has been held up for months in Congress.

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