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Multiple European newspapers stated that the Ukrainian government was doing everything in its power to allow the Ukrainian civilians to flee the country safely. I was under the impression that Ukrainian civilians who are currently taking part in the military conflict against Russia willingly chose to do so.

However recent reports from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights indicate that a lot of Ukrainian civilians are forced to join the military, under prison or death threats. The civilians are apparently forced to enroll based on their gender; mostly males between 18 and 60 and even trans women.

The Ukrainian military would deny these civilians the right to cross the border and flee the country. They would check civilians' cars at checkpoints to find civilians physically able to use weapons and forcefully enroll them in the armed conflict.

So are Ukrainian civilians really free to flee the country? Or are some of them forced (under prison or death threats) to participate in a military conflict?

Edit

Whether conscription is scandalous or not is opinion-based and beyond the scope of this question. What I'm trying to know is whether all Ukrainian civilians (whatever their gender, age, or ethnicity) are free to flee the armed conflict in Ukraine, or whether some or all of them are forced in any way to remain in the country to take part in the armed conflict.

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    This question is phrased as if conscription was something scandalous. Although few countries still practice active conscriptions, most of the world still has laws on the book which permit the government to conscript any able-bodied citizens (in most cases only men) in times of war. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription
    – Philipp
    May 24 at 1:17
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    @Obie2.0 There is a difference when people are being conscripted to fight in a foreign conflict and when they are being conscripted to fight in their own country to defend against a foreign invasion.
    – Joe W
    May 24 at 1:21
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    @JoeW - Yes, there is. But there is an argument that the second is worse: how moral is it, really, to attempt to obligate people who legitimately fear for their lives and would be considered refugees in any other country (if not internally displaced refugees in their own country) to put their lives in very serious danger instead of trying to protect themselves and their loved ones as best they can? It might not be unusual, but whether it is right is quite another question.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 24 at 2:17
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    @Obie2.0 A country that is being invaded doesn't have any good choices, if they let everyone who can flee do so there is a higher chance that more people who can't flee and can't defend themselves will just end up dying.
    – Joe W
    May 24 at 2:40
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    Please provide a link to the human rights report you're mentioning. May 24 at 2:52

4 Answers 4

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To quote Wikipedia on conscription in the Ukrainian army:

In October 2013 President Yanukovich ended conscription in Ukraine, at the time 60% of Ukraine's forces were composed of professional soldiers.[82] However, due to the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine conscription, as well as a partial mobilization, was reinstated in 2014.[83] Ukraine has modified the age group of males eligible for conscription for 2015 from 18–25 to the 20–27 age group.[84]

After serving out the term of service Ukraine's conscripts become part of the inactive reserve and are eligible to be recalled for mobilization until they reach age 55, age 60 for officers. Due to the war in Donbas Ukraine has instated a partial mobilization to fill needed positions in its armed forces, recalling conscripts who have served before, because of the war many conscripts have also been forced to serve longer than their original 18-month term of service.[85] It was planned that in 2015 Ukraine would undergo three waves of partial mobilization, this would have allowed new troops to replace those serving longer than their original term of service.[86]

And further:

All medical workers in Ukraine, regardless of gender, are eligible to be called up for service in case of a national emergency.

In other words, all able-bodied men, as well as the medical personnel (regardless of gender) are legally obliged to take part in the fighting (mobilization in the quotes before) - I suppose that there is a motivated order by the president to this end. Naturally (and understandably), there are many men who flee, in order to protect their lives, and the authorities are trying to force them to return and join the army. The situation is not unusual in the times of military conflict, and whether one calls them deserters, draft dodgers or civilians fleeing fighting is a matter of personal perspective.

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    This is the best answer, as it answers the original question and provides objective, non-self-contradictory information
    – Silicium
    May 24 at 8:29
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No.

Ukraine is drafting civilians into their military, as it is commonly accepted by international law. The military is then forced to fight. A small difference, but a difference.

  • The legitimate Ukrainian government has military conscription. It allows conscientious objector status, but apparently this is significantly harder than other democracies made it in recent decades. Not necessarily harder than they made it during the Cold War.
  • The self-declared republics in the Donbas seem to be conscripting fighters, too. They seem to have considerably fewer safeguards, and they are assumed to be working at the orders of the Russian government. So Russia is forcibly drafting Ukrainian citizens to fight against their legitimiate government, which is not covered by international law.
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    Nobody in that republics has elected the curent ukrainian government, so tallking about legitimity of that government on that teritory is a bit problematic. Also this answer seems to be based on whataboutism, so don´t se how it answering the question.
    – convert
    May 24 at 10:10
  • @convert, the header of the question talked about Ukrainian citizens being drafted to fight, only the main text went into details. A complete answer to the header mentions all governments which draft them, and any answer regarding the self-declared republics should point out that they are self-declared and not widely recognized.
    – o.m.
    May 24 at 15:59
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    @convert Conscripting people on conquered territory (this definitely includes the territory conquered at least in 2022, possibly also in 2014) is an internationally recognized war crime. The answer also definitely answers the title. May 25 at 6:20
  • War Resistors International reports that "The right to conscientious objection only applies to members of officially registered religious denominations who forbid their members to bear arms." The government has decreed a list of accepted religious denominations: Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Adventists-Reformists, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Charismatic Christian Church.
    – ccprog
    May 25 at 13:47
  • @ccprog, hence my 'significantly harder' remark. But I'm old enough to recall how this changed in the West, a generation ago.
    – o.m.
    May 25 at 14:49
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Although I did not find the exact newspaper article I read earlier, I found an article from The Guardian which seems to indicate that the Ukrainian government does indeed prevent male Ukrainian civilians aged 18 to 60 from fleeing the country. However, the article also specifies that they are not, at this point in time, forced to take an active part in the armed conflict.

The UN has urged Ukraine to take a “compassionate and humane” approach to the enforcement of martial law after reports of Ukrainian men defying orders to stay and attempting to cross into neighbouring countries to claim asylum.

Men of conscription age, aged 18 to 60, were banned from leaving Ukraine after the Russian invasion on 24 February but there have been multiple reports of men with Ukrainian citizenship trying to cross into Hungary, Poland and Romania. It is unclear how many have been allowed to pass.

The Ukrainian government is not forcing men to fight, only remain in the country, but there are fears of enforced conscription if the violence continues.

I also found this article shared on Twitter by Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, which explicitly states that "all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are required by martial law to remain in Ukraine":

During my recent visit to Ukraine, I was also told that some transgender people have difficulty leaving the country. For example, this is the case with several transgender women who are blocked in Ukraine because they have not completed the process of legal gender recognition, and therefore the gender markers on their identity documents remain male, while all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are required by martial law to remain in Ukraine. More generally, authorities in both Ukraine and the border countries should address the particular vulnerability of transgender people who need to leave the country so they can do so safely.

Based on these two articles, it does not seem that Ukrainian civilians are currently forced to fight in Ukraine at this point in time, although the situation might very well evolve in the foreseeable future.

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Unknown.

Zelensky declared martial law in Ukraine on 24th February 2022.

According to the above article, because of martial law, he can "force" Ukrainian men from 18 to 60 to stay in Ukraine.

Therefore, there is no way we should know if "all" of the men banned from leaving Ukraine are fighting willingly or not.

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