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20 Apr, 2024 16:49

Zelensky acts to halt Ukrainian army gambling epidemic

The president has introduced restrictions barring soldiers from accessing internet betting sites
Zelensky acts to halt Ukrainian army gambling epidemic

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky introduced a set of restrictions on internet casinos on Saturday in a bid to curb what has been described as a gambling epidemic within the military.

The measures developed by the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (SNBO) include making online casinos limit the amount of time and money that can be spent, as well as a ban on multiple accounts. It also introduces a state monitoring system for online gambling and orders a government electronic communications watchdog to block all websites granting illegal access to the activity.

The document also separately orders the head of the armed forces, Aleksandr Syrsky, and other commanders to “immediately introduce… a ban on access to gambling establishments and online gambling for military personnel” while martial law remains in effect.

The move came after reports of widespread addiction among Ukrainian soldiers. In late March, Ukrainian MP Aleksey Goncharenko claimed that “nine out of ten soldiers on the frontlines have problems with either casinos or betting.”

According to the lawmaker, servicemen were spending their entire salaries on gambling and were falling into debt. “This is an issue that is destroying the morale of the military right now,” Goncharenko said at the time, adding that “it is not just some problem. It is all hell broke loose.”

He warned that soldiers coming back from the front without a penny to their names would be easy targets for criminal recruiters. The Ukrainian high command did not comment on the problem, while some middle-ranking commanders sought to downplay it.

A squad leader with the infamous neo-Nazi Aidar Battalion called Goncharenko “an idiot” in an interview with Ukrainian media, and dismissed his claims as based on unverified data.

Within days of the lawmaker’s statement, a petition appeared on the Ukrainian president’s website demanding limits to online gambling. The document, said to be authored by a Ukrainian serviceman, stated that soldiers “remain far away from their families, under pressure and without proper rest for the third year in a row.” Gambling has become “the only way to cope with stress” for them, it said, adding that troops pledge military equipment, including drones, to pawn brokers to get more money to bet.

The petition was signed by more than 26,000 people, surpassing the 25,000 required for it to be reviewed by the president. Earlier this month, Politico reported that low morale among Ukrainian forces could lead to a collapse on the front line this year.