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Ukraine legalizes mobilization of prisoners, mirroring Russian practice

Russia was previously the sole country widely conscripting prisoners to Ukraine’s front lines, a practice Wagner group began in 2022 without changing Russian laws.
Ukraine legalizes mobilization of prisoners, mirroring Russian practice
The building of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) in Kyiv, 2017. Photo: Depositphotos
Ukraine legalizes mobilization of prisoners, mirroring Russian practice

The Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has adopted a law allowing mobilization of certain categories of convicts into the Armed Forces, as announced by MP Yaroslav Zheleznyak. 279 deputies voted in favor, exceeding the 226 votes required. Due to martial law, the Parliament does not broadcast its sessions live nor announce dates/times.

“The anti-corruption committee’s emphasized risks were partially addressed by removing the right to be mobilized from prison for MPs, some top corrupt officials (with exceptions), and those convicted of serious crimes like murder and rape,” Zheleznyak wrote on Telegram.

As per MP Olena Shuliak, an initiator of the bill, those convicted of drug-related offenses involving production, acquisition, distribution or possession will also be ineligible to serve. 

For potential mobilization, a general condition applies – convicts must have no more than 3 years remaining on their sentence, Shuliak said. 

“Prisoners who have to remain in prisons for longer, and especially those with life sentences, will be immediately denied without the right to appeal,” the MP told Ukrainska Pravda.

The decision on early conditional release for mobilization rests solely with the courts, based on approvals from medical commissions, probation boards, and the receiving military unit.

Previously, Russia was the only party engaging in widespread conscription of prisoners to the front lines in Ukraine. This practice began in 2022 under Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group, who sent prisoners to the front without any changes to Russian laws.

After Prigozhin’s death and Wagner’s withdrawal from Ukraine, Russia’s Defense Ministry took over prisoner recruitment. A significant proportion of Russian military casualties are now comprised of convict soldiers.

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