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20 Feb, 2024 15:41

Kiev has right to demand return of draft dodgers – UN

Top Ukrainian officials have been urging European countries to extradite men of fighting age
Kiev has right to demand return of draft dodgers – UN

Ukraine has the right to demand the return of male refugees who are evading the draft, UN official Philippe Leclerc has argued. He added that military mobilization in Ukraine does not constitute persecution, meaning legal protection for draftees can theoretically be reviewed.

Kiev declared general mobilization in February 2022, barring eligible men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country. Nevertheless, thousands have managed to flee illegally since then, with that number allegedly on the rise in recent months.

In December, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky claimed that the military leadership had proposed calling up an additional 450,000-500,000 people. The country’s parliament is currently deliberating on a new mobilization law.

Appearing at a press conference via video link on Tuesday, Leclerc, who serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional director for Europe, said Ukraine “has every right to mobilize its population,” including “refugees of fighting age residing abroad.” 

He noted that people can still “theoretically” refuse to take up arms on the basis of their moral or religious convictions in Ukraine, but added that it is “difficult” to exercise that right in practice.

Late last month, Zelensky called on the German government to stop financially supporting Ukrainian refugees on its soil and divert the cash to Kiev instead.

Zelensky’s senior aide, Mikhail Podoliak, has also argued that no one should be allowed to “sit out” the conflict with Russia abroad. He suggested that consultations should be launched with host nations on whether Ukrainian draft dodgers “can further get temporary residence permits, have certain preferential treatment, [or] get aid” in those places.

German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann was quick to stress that “it will not be the case that we are now forcing people to get drafted or [join] the military service against their will.”

In January, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas insisted her country would not hand over Ukrainian men to the authorities in Kiev. Her remarks came after Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets suggested that Tallinn could track down Ukrainians fit for combat duty and hand them over.

Last month, the Russian Ministry of Defense estimated that Ukraine has lost more than 383,000 troops killed or wounded since the start of the conflict.

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