Zelensky Lowers Draft Age to Shore Up Ukraine’s Depleted Army

Author: Editors Desk, Andrew E. Kramer Reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine Source: N.Y Times
April 3, 2024 at 06:33
Ukrainian soldiers training in the country’s Donetsk region on Monday.Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times
Ukrainian soldiers training in the country’s Donetsk region on Monday.Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

The idea of requiring more men to join the fight against Russia’s invasion has become toxic politically, but Russia is not relenting in its assault.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has signed into law three measures aimed at replenishing the ranks of his country’s exhausted and battered army, including lowering the age when men become eligible for conscription and eliminating some medical exemptions.

While Mr. Zelensky did not say why he had decided to move ahead on at least some changes, Russia’s forces have been on the offensive along the front line and the ongoing fighting has shrunk Ukraine’s supplies of soldiers and weapons.

Ukraine’s Parliament has for months debated a bill that covers a more sweeping overhaul of conscription, but political analysts say that calling up more men has become an issue that no politician or military leader wants to be associated with. That included Mr. Zelensky, who had delayed for nearly a year signing the bill lowering the draft age.

Ukraine’s army of about one million soldiers is fighting the largest war in Europe since World War II, waged in muddy trenches or the ruins of cities in urban combat. Casualty rates are high. Most men who wanted to volunteer for the military have already done so, and small anti-draft protests had broken out before the new laws were passed.

The new measures, which Parliament had passed last May and which Mr. Zelensky signed into law late Tuesday, lower the draft eligibility age to 25, from 27; eliminate a category of medical exemption known as “partially eligible”; and create an electronic database of men in Ukraine starting at age 17.


Military recruitment offices are authorized to begin drafting younger men on Wednesday.

Ukraine is expected, at best, to hold the existing front lines in ground fighting this year if a new influx of American weapons arrives, military analysts say, and risks falling back without it. To maximize its efforts, Ukraine plans to replenish its army through mobilization while trying to keep Russia off balance with sabotage missions behind enemy lines and long-range drone strikes, such as attacks on an oil refinery and weapons plant in Russia on Tuesday.


Two people in military clothing work from laptops on either side of a table. A pair of banners framing the window include the battalion’s name and insignia.
Members of the Da Vinci Wolves Battalion, a part of Ukraine’s armed forces, at a recruiting center in Kyiv in February.Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Ukraine relies on its allies for most new ammunition and weapons, and renewing that arsenal is mostly a matter beyond the country’s control. In Washington on Monday, the House speaker, Mike Johnson, laid out conditions for a vote on a fresh infusion of American weapons and financial aid, in the strongest indication yet that the assistance could be forthcoming despite opposition from many Republicans.

At home, Ukraine has stumbled on the overhaul of mobilization rules. In January, its Parliament withdrew a draft law on mobilization that included stiffened penalties for draft dodgers. The bill was introduced again, but lawmakers submitted more than 4,000 amendments. A vote was expected this month.


Andrew E. Kramer is the Kyiv bureau chief for The Times, who has been covering the war in Ukraine since 2014. More about Andrew E. Kramer

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