Ukraine Anti-Conscription Protests Emerge As Zelensky Hunts For Manpower

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Feb 13, 2024 - 07:45 AM

In a sign of things to come, anti-conscription protests have begun popping up in Ukraine, and crucially even in areas seen as generally supportive of Zelensky's war effort against Russia. This comes as the Zelensky government has for several weeks now been teasing the likelihood of a major mobilization, as the military is in dire need of hundreds of thousands of more able-bodied troops. 

Currently, a controversial mobilization bill is currently slowly making its away through parliament. It seeks to reduce the age limit of conscription from 27 to 25 while also increasing the penalties for those failing to register. But it remains that as the Washington Post has reported, Ukraine's forces are facing a severe shortage of troops after suffering high casualties over the last two years. "The Ukrainian military is facing a critical shortage of infantry, leading to exhaustion and diminished morale on the front line," the Post wrote.

Troops shipped off to front lines, via AP.

"In interviews across the front line, nearly a dozen soldiers and commanders [said] that personnel deficits were their most critical problem now, as Russia has regained the offensive initiative on the battlefield and is stepping up its attacks,' the report continued.

In a rarity, The New York Times on Sunday detailed a protest that popped up over the weekend, crucially in a region of Ukraine known to have high support for the war. The report details the following:

A crowd angry about the draft blocked a road outside a western Ukrainian village last week in a rowdy confrontation with drivers and the police that illustrated the political risks of expanding mobilization.

Villages in the west have been a primary source of soldiers for the Ukrainian army, and support for the war has been higher in the country’s west than overall in Ukraine. But the loss of male loved ones has taken a toll on many families.

The roadblock took place on Tuesday in the village of Kosmach, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, and began with unfounded rumors in local chat groups that draft officials were coming to find the village’s remaining men, the police said in a statement. About a hundred women blocked a road, and the protest turned violent when they mistook a woman from a neighboring village for a draft official, police officers said.

The woman, Ivanna Vandzhurak, wrote in a Facebook post that the crowd had yelled that she was a “spotter” for the local military recruitment office. The accusation echoed widespread worry in Ukrainian society that spies in their midst, known as spotters, are helping Russia identify missile targets, but in this case, the source of the anxiety was the military recruitment system.

The fact that 100 women led a protest in a western Ukrainian region known for its strong patriotism is a sign of likely bigger similar protests in other parts of the country, as the mobilization bill continues being debated in parliament.

One observer has written of the tense state of things all across the war-ravaged country:

The mobilizers have long been competing in running, wrestling, and fistfights with potential conscripts, often taking advantage of their numerical superiority. After all, for ordinary Ukrainians, there is nothing scarier than being sent to the front, so they are ready to fight with conscription officers for their freedom and lives to the end.

The question of how to most effectively call up more manpower to the frontlines was reportedly a key issue in the rift between President Zelensky and his chief of the armed forces Gen. Valery Zaluzhny. Zelensky has since fired the popular General Zaluzhny and appointed Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky in order to set a new direction.

In the meantime, the below widely circulating photograph has resulted in speculation that there could still yet be the potential of a near-future coup attempt by far-right elements in the military, in support of the now sidelined Zaluzhny...

Valery Zaluzhny (left) with Andriy Stempitsky, a commander of the neo-Nazi Right Sector during his last days in office. Behind them is a portrait of historic Ukrainian fascist leader Stepan Bandera.

The NY Times observes, "The plans for calling up more soldiers to fight in grim trench warfare was something nobody in Ukraine’s military or civilian leadership wanted to be associated with." Troops which had been called up from the very start of the war have in many cases expressed anger at having done their duty, only to be forced to stay in combat past their military service end date.