Tuesday, April 16

Ukraine lowers military draft age in effort to bolster troop numbers in war against Russia

Ukraine on Wednesday lowered the military conscription age from 27 to 25 in an effort to replenish its depleted ranks after more than two years of war following Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The new mobilization law came into force a day after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed it. Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed it last year.

It was not immediately clear why Zelenskyy took so long to sign the measure into law. He didn’t make any public comment about it, and officials did not say how many new soldiers the country expected to gain or for which units.

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Conscription has been a sensitive matter in Ukraine for many months amid a growing shortage of infantry on top of a severe ammunition shortfall that has handed Russia the battlefield initiative. Russia’s own problems with manpower and planning have so far prevented it from taking full advantage of its edge.

The average age of Ukrainian soldiers, like those on the Russian side, is around 40, military analysts say. Some Ukrainians worry that taking young adults out of the workforce will backfire by further harming the war-ravaged economy, but the problem reportedly has become acute as Kyiv girds for an expected summer offensive by the Kremlin’s forces.

The initial enthusiasm for going out to fight against the Kremlin’s forces has waned, though public support for the war remains high.

Ukraine currently forbids men younger than 60 from traveling abroad. Many Ukrainian men are evading the draft by hiding at home or trying to bribe their way out of the battle. Commanders say they don’t have enough soldiers to launch offensives, and barely enough to hold positions during intensifying Russian assaults.

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Russia’s population is more than three times as large as Ukraine’s, and President Vladimir Putin has shown a willingness to force men to the front if not enough volunteer.

Zelenskyy has rarely mentioned the mobilization issue, and parliament attached more than 1,000 amendments to the mobilization bill he signed.

Last December, Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s military wanted to mobilize up to 500,000 more troops. But he said he had asked the top brass to spell out the details on what is “a very sensitive matter” before deciding whether to grant their wish.

Such a major mobilization would cost Ukraine the equivalent of $13.4 billion, Zelenskyy said at the time. Other aspects to be considered include whether troops currently on the front would be rotated or allowed home leave, he said.

The need for a broad mobilization to beef up the number of Ukrainian troops reportedly was one of the areas of disagreement between Zelenskyy and Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the popular commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces whom the president replaced in February.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry statistics say the Ukrainian military had nearly 800,000 troops in October. That doesn’t include National Guard or other units. In total, 1 million Ukrainians are in uniform.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s air force said it shot down four drones that Russia launched overnight over central provinces.

An 11-year-old boy died in a hospital from injuries sustained during Russia’s attack in the Kupiansk area on Tuesday, according to Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov. His 58-year-old father was killed in the attack.

Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, “sees daily humiliation and pain” from unrelenting Russian aerial attacks.

Russian attacks all across the country are “wreaking havoc,” Zelenskyy wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in an appeal for Ukraine’s Western partners to supply more air defense systems.

In March alone, the Kremlin’s forces launched more than 400 missiles of various types, 600 Iranian-designed Shahed drones, and more than 3,000 guided aerial bombs against Ukraine, he said.

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