‘Why should I return to fight?’ Ukrainian men living abroad say

Dmytro Lazutkin, the press secretary of the Ukrainian ministry of defence, said there were no plans to issue conscription notices overseas.

“The ministry of defence cannot comment on the actions of the foreign ministry. I think it’s pretty unrealistic,” he told Radio Free Europe.

It has also drawn a mixed reaction from Ukraine’s allies. Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, Poland’s defence minister, said “Ukrainian citizens have obligations towards the state”, and that Warsaw would help “in ensuring that those who are subject to compulsory military service go to Ukraine”.

German authorities have said some Ukrainian men will be able to extend their residency in the country even if their passports expire as long as there is some way to identify them.

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 have officially been banned from leaving Ukraine since the president Volodymyr Zelensky introduced martial law on the first day of the Russian invasion in 2022.

In practice, many were able to obtain exemptions, either by being declared unfit for military service, having three or more children, or by gaining special permission to travel from the government. Others have tried to leave illegally, some by smuggling themselves across Ukraine’s western borders. Mr Zelensky cracked down on officials abusing exemptions to travel last year. The bar for being passed fit to serve has also been lowered.

The European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, says 4.3 million Ukrainians are living in EU countries, 860,000 of them men 18 years of age or older. The British government says it has issued 256,200 visas under its scheme for Ukrainian refugees. It is not clear how many of them were for fighting age men.

Ukrainian men living abroad told the Telegraph they had no plans to return to fight and considered the law unfair.

“The law is not fair”

“My passport is still valid,” 39-year-old Vladimir said, “but I think for many people who came here from occupied areas like Mariupol, the situation is a bit insulting. Russia destroyed their homes, and now their own country is taking a stick to them.”

Volodymyr, a builder from Western Ukraine who has been living and working in the Czech Republic for most of the past eight years, said: “The law is not fair. And all my Ukrainian friends from the Czech Republic, Lutsk and Kyiv think so. Nobody is happy with it. The government is forcing us, and with such laws we will step away from them. We will take citizenship in other countries.”

“People won’t return. The longer the war goes on, the more laws like this are passed, the more people hate Ukraine and the government. Why should I return to fight? For what? Why didn’t the government care about labour migrants like me before the war?”

“Every day we have less and less territory and fewer and fewer people. Some have been killed, others swam the Tisza river just to escape.” The Tisza, a tributary of the Danube, marks a 10-mile stretch of Ukraine’s border with Hungary.

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