‘Don’t want to fight’: Ukrainians abroad slam plan to deny embassy services | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Names marked with an asterisk have been changed to protect identities.

Warsaw, Poland – When Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, Kyrylo, an IT specialist in Poland, rushed to evacuate his parents from Kyiv. Since then, he has been the family’s main breadwinner.

To support Ukraine from across the border, he makes donations and buys Starlink satellite-internet kits in Europe for volunteers back in his homeland. Although he is guilt-stricken living abroad, he feels joining the army would not help the war effort.

“If the army could guarantee that my work would be aligned with my skills and knowledge, I would go back. I could help with drones and other technology. But getting a rifle and shooting would not be the most efficient way of utilising my skills,” said the 35-year-old, who requested to withhold his last name.

He has lived abroad since 2015, long before Russia’s war began. During that time, he also became a father; his daughter is now six.

Last month, Ukraine decided to suspend consular services for military-age Ukrainian men in a bid to boost its struggling army. Those who left before and after the war began will be affected by the move.

According to the new law, from May 18, men aged between 18 and 60 living abroad will not be able to access key services unless they update their data in their local conscription centres in Ukraine.

For most of these men, getting a new passport, marriage certificate or driver’s licence would ultimately mean abandoning their adopted country for the foreseeable future, as those eligible for military service cannot leave wartime Ukraine.

Anton*, 19, left Ukraine after the war began. He lives in Poland with his 41-year-old father and 18-year-old brother. If they stayed in Ukraine, all three would likely be sent to fight.

“I support individual battalions in Ukraine with donations every month – this is my duty,” said Anton, who works as a waiter.

“But I don’t want to fight, as I don’t trust our government. They don’t care about people. And they don’t care if there’s a war going on, they’re corrupt and keep stealing the money that we pay for the army. Why go to war for a state who only wants to steal?” he said bitterly.

The exceptions include men with disabilities, fathers of three or more children under the age of 18, and single fathers – conditions which do not apply to most of the tens of thousands of Ukrainian men who have been living abroad since the beginning of the war.

According to Eurostat data, approximately 650,000 refugee men of conscription age have been living in the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, or Lichtenstein since the beginning of the invasion. It is unclear how many of them left Ukraine legally and how many paid bribes. This number does not include men who left before the war.

A BBC investigation late last year reported that 20,000 men had dodged the draft by fleeing “illegally” into neighbouring countries.

‘I don’t want to fight, I don’t trust our government’

Since the law was announced, crowds of Ukrainian men have rushed to collect their documents at Ukrainian consulates across Poland before the deadline.

There were frantic scenes at a Warsaw consulate last month when consular staff said no papers would be handed out that day. Citing an unspecified system error, it was impossible to produce passports, they said.

In footage of the incident that has circulated online, a mother of a 16-year-old was filmed losing her temper.

“Give us the documents back and go to Ukraine to fight yourself,” she is seen telling a female consulate employee, raising her voice in despair. “I paid for the passport, give me my son’s document or return the money.”

INTERACTIVE-WHO CONTROLS WHAT IN UKRAINE-1714561759
(Al Jazeera)

As the fight against Russian forces rages on for a third year, tensions between the government in Kyiv and the Ukrainian diaspora have risen.

In a new bill on mobilisation, Ukraine had planned measures allowing men who had served for 36 months to return from the front. But the idea failed as Ukraine suffers manpower shortages, angering tired troops.

“How it looks like now: a man of conscription age went abroad, showed his state that he does not care about its survival, and then comes and wants to receive services from this state. It does not work this way. Our country is at war,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, wrote on X, promising the new rules will be “fair”.

Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, Poland’s defence minister, welcomed Kyiv’s move, suggesting some were suspicious of Ukrainian men in Poland.

“I know what raises questions and sometimes even frustration among Poles,” Kosiniak-Kamysz said. “This is a situation when they see young Ukrainians of military age in shopping malls or hotels, at a time when there is an urgent need for new recruits to join the Ukrainian army.”

While Ukraine’s need to supply the army with new soldiers may be justified, Ukrainians living abroad say they were not consulted.

“The diaspora for years has felt disregarded and even treated with contempt by the Ukrainian authorities. All their efforts to support Ukraine in the war against Russia, [including] fundraisers, have gone almost unnoticed,” said Olena Babakova, a Poland-based Ukrainian migration expert and lecturer at Vistula University.

“Now, the decision has been communicated chaotically and post factum. [It is] as if the Ukrainian government did it viciously on purpose to show the diaspora that their fate can turn, too.”

She said that there are no mechanisms that would allow Poland and other European countries to return Ukrainian men avoiding conscription. Since they are legally considered refugees fleeing war, it is also unlikely that such a measure would be developed in future, she said.

‘Ukrainian society is tired’

The new rules for obtaining documents are unlikely to bring Ukrainian men home, but could make their lives in Europe more difficult. They may also widen the gap between those who stayed in Ukraine and those who left.

“Ukrainian society is tired and there is a growing expectation that different groups will share the burden of war,” said Babakova. “People search for justice. And Ukrainians abroad have become the object of this search to pay the price.”

Some in Kyiv also rejected the government’s decision.

“These imbeciles are doing everything they can so that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will not return home,” said Lyudmila, who lives in the Ukrainian capital. Her 24-year-old son, Andrii, is a university student in Germany who is now technically considered a draft dodger.

She withheld their last names fearing ostracism.

Andrii is about to graduate and will be eligible for military service.

In 2016, when he had an obligatory medical evaluation at high school. he was considered “fit for military service with limitations”.

He now has to undergo a new medical evaluation only in Ukraine, but his mother is afraid authorities would not allow him to return to Germany.

“They made sure my child is never coming back. We’ll only see him in Europe,” she said.

With additional reporting by Mansur Mirovalev, in Kyiv.

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