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?


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.

  • 15
    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
    Commented May 24, 2022 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
    Commented May 24, 2022 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
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 2:17
  • 6
    @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
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 2:40
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    Please provide a link to the human rights report you're mentioning. Commented May 24, 2022 at 2:52

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 2
    This is the best answer, as it answers the original question and provides objective, non-self-contradictory information
    – Silicium
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 8:29
  • This answer (and similarly the original question) seems to mix up the concept of the governemt requiring able-bodied men to be available for conscription and actually making them join the fighting. Ukraine has approximately 40 million inhabitants so there are somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 million able-bodied men that are required to stay in Ukraine and that the government could conscript into the armed forces. But only about 300.000 of them (less than 5%) actually are in the armed forces.
    – quarague
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:09
  • @quarague indeed, being forced to stay in the country, and being forced to fight are not the same thing. The question asks about both: 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? The answer to both is clear: no, they are not to flee the country. Yes, some of them are forced to fight, since, if they receive the mobilization order, they cannot refuse to obey.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:16
  • @quarague Aside: 300,000 is likely an incorrect number - In summer Zelensky himself promised 1 million strong offensive. Your number also doesn't doesn't square with Russian mobilization that called the same 300,000 only as reinforcements - in addition to those who are already participating in the conflict.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:17
  • I didn't search for current numbers in the Ukrainian military, so the 300.000 currently is probably too low. But my point remains. In your comment you first write about [all] civilians being able to flee and then about some of them forced to fight. You answer is written in a way that completely blurs this distiction. Ie 'the authorities are trying to force them to return [that is all of them] and join the army [that applies only to a few]'.
    – quarague
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 18:05


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
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 10:10
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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. Commented May 25, 2022 at 6:20
  • 1
    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
    Commented May 25, 2022 at 13:47
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    @ccprog, hence my 'significantly harder' remark. But I'm old enough to recall how this changed in the West, a generation ago.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 25, 2022 at 14:49
  • 1
    @ccprog, Germany reformed the "Gewissensprüfung" in 1983. I know several people who objected during or after their service (i.e. while they were liable for reserve recall) and they had to document their personal convictions with more than just a personal statement. Affilation with organized religion was one of the common ways. They would then be quizzed as to the depth and sincerity of their convictions.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 26, 2022 at 4:36

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.


No, looks like into the sixth month of the war there are still enough volunteers ready to fight on the free will.

The New York Times writes that there are not just local but even foreign volunteers coming, even from Russia, even from Chechnya, whom Ukraine does not need but anyway shows an effort to accept. It may be possible to find some Ukrainians that do not want to fight and choose to flee instead, but seems no big need to care about those so far. Looks like the lack of armament is still much more the limiting factor for Ukraine.

From the other side, most of the countries have the legal option to call every single man to defend the country, and it is mandatory to respond to the call. For instance, USA is commonly seen as a country with the professional army, but they have the selective service also. This may not sound nice but if this is a violation of human rights, this violation is present I think in about any country in the world.

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