Ukraine

 

  Conscription:

Yes

Reintroduced in 2014 (earlier suspended in 2012).

  Conscientious objection:

1991

First recognised in the Law of Ukraine “On Alternative (Non-Military) Service”.

Service

 

Military:

18

12 months for males of higher education.

Civilian:

27

18 months for males of higher education.

Minimum

 

Conscription:

18

Quasi-voluntary with summoning in the age of 18-19, compulsory in the age of 20-27.

Voluntary enlistment:

17

Under 18 for military schools: 17 for cadets

More 

https://ebco-beoc.org/ukraine

16,460 conscripts were drafted during the spring military draft in May-July 2020 (it was postponed due to COVID-19 for a month) and 13,570 conscripts were drafted during the autumn military draft in October-December 2020. So, the total number of young people coercively sent to military service in 2020 was 30,030, corresponding to 88,5% of the 2019 draft (33,952). The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine informs that 4,166 conscripts who served their 18-month term and 300 conscripts who served 12-month term were released from military service in 2020.

According to the information provided by the local state administrations to the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, in 2020 approximately 1,538 conscientious objectors conduct alternative service, nearly 95% of them in 27-month term. Previous years, about 20% of applications for alternative service were refused for untimeliness, nearly 2% for the absence of proof of religious beliefs (such as a certificate of church membership), and near 1% for non-appearance of an applicant before the local state administration’s body administering alternative service; such bodies usually include an officer of military commissariat and consist mostly of civil servants, some of whom may be military reservists.

Alternative service is accessible only for religious objectors belonging to religious organizations of 10 denominations listed in the 1999 governmental decree. Servicemen who develop a conscientious objection have no legal way to have their objection recognized, and voluntary dismissal from military service is usually unavailable. This also applies to conscripts transported to military units against their will.

The widespread corruption in Ukraine still serves as an almost only way for many young people to avoid military service. According to numerous press releases of police, tens of officers of military commissariats and military medics were arrested in 2020 for taking bribes from draft evaders in sums from $500 to $2700. Also, in May 2020 the director of the division of professional adaptation of participants of anti-terrorist operation, joint forces operation, and alternative service of the Khmelnytskyi Oblast State Administration was arrested for extortion of $1000 bribe, a box of candies and coffee for retroactive registration of late application for alternative service and ensuring approval of the application.

Three cases of suicide of conscript servicemen in Kyiv and Zhytomyr Oblast were reported by the media in 2020. Psychotherapist Mikhailo Matiash in his article in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia newspaper informed that a survey of contract and conscript servicemen who participated in armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine revealed a high inclination to suicide; this expert statement is particularly interesting because the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine still claims that conscripts never participate in the Donbass armed conflict, despite this claim was publicly disputed several times.

3361 criminal proceedings against evaders from military service were registered in January-November 2020 by the Articles 335-337, 407-409 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, including 18 cases of self-harm. For similar offenses, 190 draft dodgers and deserters were jailed, 117 arrested, 24 held in disciplinary battalions, 380 were fined by courts in 2019.

In 2020 Ukrainian journalist, pacifist, and conscientious objector Ruslan Kotsaba was put under trial again in Kolomyia City District Court of Ivano-Frankivsk Region because he published in 2015 a video blog calling to boycott mobilization for armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. For his expression of antiwar thoughts, he is accused of treason and obstructing military operations. Kotsaba already spent 524 days under arrest and was duly acquitted in 2016. His current retrial is a result of politically motivated prosecution and far-right pressure on justice. Prosecutor asks the court to sentence him to 13 years of imprisonment with confiscation of property, which is a clearly disproportionate punishment. EBCO called for the immediate and unconditional end of the criminal prosecution against Kotsaba; [1] also, War Resisters' International, Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto, Connection e.V., DFG-VK, and others expressed their solidarity with Ruslan Kotsaba.

In July 2020 master's students Igor Drozd and Georgy Veshapidze were transported against their will from Desniansky district military commissariat of Kyiv to a military unit and illegally detained despite they had a right for postponement of conscription to obtain higher education. Their story was covered by the media, an assistant to the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights (UPCHR) examined the military commissariat and found this and other violations, such as non-voluntary enlistment of conscripts under the age of 20. The boys were released.

In August 2020, the Office of UPCHR reported that a Telegram bot published a list of 6,907 servicemen who abandoned their military units, using personal data without permission.

In several regions of Ukraine coronavirus testing of conscripts was introduced. On 16 December 2020, Medical Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported 3,186 people in the Armed Forces of Ukraine had acute respiratory illness COVID-19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus; for 31 December, it reported 1,937 servicemen were ill and in total, during the pandemic, there were 38 fatalities and 12,026 servicemen were recovered.

On 8 April 2020, replying to the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement’s petition to cancel conscription for the time of COVID-19 pandemic, the UPCHR’s representative in matters of protection of servicemen Oleh Chuiko informed that the Commissioner raised a question of prevention a spread of COVID-19 among servicemen. Also, he informed that in 2019 the Commissioner received more than 50 complaints from draftees and their relatives, describing more than 100 violations of human rights by officers of military commissariats, and the Commissioner took necessary measures to stop the violations and prevent them in the future.

In a 2019 submission to the UN Human Rights Committee, the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses informed that Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration has made a practice of dismissing all applications for alternative civilian service by Jehovah’s Witnesses because the law demands that application for alternative civilian service must be filed not later than two months prior to the beginning of a conscription period determined by the Presidential Decree, which in recent years usually issued later than two months before the conscription. [2] In 2020, the decree was issued three months before the conscription period. According to statistics provided by the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration to the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, 68 conscientious objectors were granted alternative service in 2015-2020, among them 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 30 applications were refused, 6 of them for untimeliness, 4 because of the absence of evidence proving genuineness of religious beliefs, and 10 because of evasion from alternative service work.

On 16/03/2020 EBCO’s President Mr. Friedhelm Schneider sent a letter to the Council of Europe Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe - Monitoring Committee (Ms. Dzhema Grozdanova and Mr. Alfred Heer) for the draft report under preparation: The honouring of obligations and commitments by Ukraine”, also attaching the EBCO Annual Report Conscientious Objection to Military Service in Europe 2019.

On 1 October 2020 at the 31st Meeting of the 45th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) expressed concern about the current violations of the right to conscientious objection to military service in Ukraine, observed a disproportionate length of the alternative service and a lack of access to employment for those who do not have military registration, and emphasized that a constitutionally enshrined duty to protect the territorial integrity of the country does not override the internationally protected right to conscientious objection; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a non-derogable right and it continues to apply regardless of a situation of armed conflict. IFOR urged Ukraine to include the full implementation of the right to conscientious objection to military service in the new Human Rights Action Plan.

Also, on 18 December 2020 at the Human Rights Council meeting IFOR made a statement that alternative service in Ukraine has a punitive and discriminatory character and it is hardly accessible; mentioned a situation with 24 Pentecostals, conscientious objectors in Hoshcha Raion of Rivne Oblast who are unable to start alternative service because there is not available employment suitable to restrictive legal regulations of alternative service. IFOR expressed concern about the adoption of human rights violating Bill 3553 by the parliament in the first reading and continuation of the trial of pacifist Ruslan Kotsaba for his 2015 video expressing opposition to the military mobilization for armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Bill 3553 "On the amendments to several legislative acts of Ukraine concerning improvement in some aspects of conducting military service and military registration" proposed by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky was adopted by the parliament in the first reading. Along with reorganization of the system of military commissariats into "Territorial Centers for Recruitment And Social Support" (TCRSS), it introduces the next measures:

  • mandatory military registration for employment;
  • more vague definitions of punishable administrative offenses against compulsory military registration/service and high fines (increased in 50-100 times to current fines), TCRSS's power to impose such fines;
  • arrests and coercive transportation of administrative offenders to TCRSSs, which seems like the legalization of the current informal practice of hunting for conscripts at the streets by police and officers of military commissariats, and arbitrary detention of conscripts, reported, among others, by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine; [3]
  • criminal punishments for evading of military registration, military training gatherings, and conscription "in special period" (declared after the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014) from high fines up to 5 years imprisonment, with focus on punishment of reservists evading from mandatory gatherings and mobilization/draft, which may imply further coercive militarization of male population, since conscripts served their term of compulsory military service are count as reservists, 40% of them reportedly persuaded to sign contracts for military service;
  • mandatory "military registration" of conscientious objectors after release from alternative service (for now, it called just "registration");
  • power of the President of Ukraine as Commander-in-Chief to mobilize reservists for compulsory military service with a term up to 6 months in a "special period";
  • personal data of people can be included without their consent into the Unified State Register of Draftees, Subjects to Military Duty, and Reservists; in particular, the data will be automatically transferred from the Unified State Demographic Register (which means that all the male population of 17 years age and older can be automatically included into a military register for conscription purposes);
  • students can be drafted in a "special period" (currently they have a right to deferral);
  • discrimination of conscientious objectors in access to public service, introduced by "special investigation of attitude towards military service" for all candidates to public offices and demands to provide military ID for seeking a job in public service.

The main scientific expert directorate of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine warned that adoption of the Bill 3553 may have a negative impact on the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Ukrainian Pacifist Movement’s call to withdraw Bill 3553 was rejected, an open letter to the President [4] was readdressed from the President's Office to the Ministry of Defence which wrote the bill should be adopted. Verkhovna Rada's Committee on Defense refused the request of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement to present objections to the Bill 3553.

Proposals of Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and International Fellowship of Reconciliation to include protection of the human right to conscientious objection against military service into the National Human Rights Strategy of Ukraine and Action Plan for 2021-2023 years were rejected too, although UN Human Rights Committee in 2013 expressed its concern that no measures appear to have been taken to extend the right of conscientious objection against mandatory military service to persons who hold non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience, as well as beliefs grounded in all religions, and stressed that alternative service arrangements should be accessible to all conscientious objectors without discrimination as to the nature of the beliefs (religious or non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience) justifying the objection, and should be neither punitive nor discriminatory in nature or duration by comparison with military service. [5] On 23 October 2020 UPCHR’s representative for foreign affairs Natalia Fedorovych stated in her official letter that the Human Rights Committee's recommendations to Ukraine on alternative service are not realized and the Commissioner believes that the Law of Ukraine “On alternative (Non-Military) Service” should be thoroughly updated and improved in accordance to the Article 35 of Constitution of Ukraine.

On 25 December 2020 President Zelensky said in an interview with Focus magazine that in a case of big war with Russia he plans total mobilization, men and women would be drafted into the active army. Major General Serhii Kryvonos criticized Zelensky's plan as unrealistic, emphasized that people don't want to fight, and said that "military service of conscripts is slavery in the most of cases"; quickly after the statement, Zelensky fired Kryvonos from the post of deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

A 2019 poll on 3e! News Telegram channel (87% of 1370 voters against conscription) and 2020 Kyiv KRT TV phone poll (91% of 578 participants agreed that military service in Ukraine should be voluntary) showed that conscription is highly unpopular in Ukraine. But at the parliamentary session on 17 July 2020 Minister of Defense Andriy Taran said that conscription in Ukraine will continue in the foreseeable future, disavowing the statement of his predecessor Andriy Zahorodniuk about a possible cancellation of conscription.

In November 2020, the law was adopted exempting personnel of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine from the military draft.

During the ongoing illegal occupation of Ukrainian territories, in 2020 the Russian Armed Forces announced conscription of 3,000 Crimean residents in violation of Article 51 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN General Assembly resolutions. The European Union condemned this attempt of the military draft and has called on Russia to stop all violations of Human Rights and international law in the Crimean Peninsula. [6] Since the beginning of the occupation, the Russian Federation has already conducted eleven conscription campaigns, during which about 25,000 people were illegally drafted into the Russian armed forces. Human Rights Watch reviewed dozens of judgments from Crimean courts on criminal draft evasion cases and identified 71 criminal draft evasion cases and 63 guilty verdicts between 2017 and 2019. The true number of such cases is most likely higher, as not all cases and judgments have been made public. In most cases, defendants were fined between 5,000 and 60,000 rubles ($77 to $1,000). [7]

Conscientious objectors in Russian-occupied Crimea can apply to military commissariats for alternative civil service in state-owned enterprises, but the military has full discretion to recognize or not recognize the "authenticity" of their beliefs; refusal can be challenged in the courts, but with little chance of winning. Conscientious objectors meet severe obstacles to the recognition of their objection including procedural barriers and discriminatory mistreatment on religious, political, and other grounds. For example, it became known that the Bakhchysarai military commissar demanded that a Jehovah's Witness change his faith to ask for alternative service since the Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Russia. Alexander Sedov, the Crimean Human Rights Group expert, in 2020 said at Radio Liberty that military commissariats prevent people from applying to alternative service and criminalize complaints about insufferable, punitive conditions of it, such as service in other regions very distant from home and unsanitary conditions of temporary residence, treating such complaints as criminally punished evasion from the alternative service.

At the territories of Donbass in Eastern Ukraine where the government does not exercise effective control, separatist forces of Russia-backed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR; estimated strength of armed forces 20,000) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR; estimated strength 14,000) imposed a regime of military registration of all males in the age 17 and summoning men to compulsory military gatherings, that include field training in military units or camps for ten days; evaders are threatened by punishment. In September 2020 leader of DPR Denis Pushilin announced conscription in the future without any concrete details. The media informs that military commissariats in LPR will organize conscription into the Russian army in 2021, especially for males 18 years and older with Russian passports, massively issued to the people in the region. Announcements of future introduction of conscription to separatist and Russian occupational armed forces in Donbass does not mention whether the human right to conscientious objection against military service will be respected.

 

[1] Brussels 8-12-2020 - OPEN LETTER to Court - EBCO calls for the dropping of all charges against Ruslan Kotsaba. Available at: https://ebco-beoc.org/node/478

[2] European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee, Ukraine, 23/09/2019. Available at: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/UKR/INT_CCPR_ICO_UKR_36874_E.pdf

[3] Human Rights Council document A/HRC/42/CRP.7 “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine 16 May to 15 August 2019,” 24th September 2019, para. 6, 49. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/UA/ReportUkraine16May-15Aug2019_EN.pdf

[4] Statement by Ukrainian Pacifist Movement: Bill № 3553 on Zelensky's military dictatorship should be withdrawn. Available at: https://wri-irg.org/en/story/2020/statement-ukrainian-pacifist-movement-bill-no-3553-zelenskys-military-dictatorship

[5] Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Ukraine (CCPR/C/UKR/CO/7) of 22 August 2013, para. 19. Available at: https://undocs.org/CCPR/C/UKR/CO/7

[6] EU statement on illegal conscription in occupied Crimea, 13 April 2020. Available at: https://wri-irg.org/en/story/2020/eu-statement-illegal-conscription-occupied-crimea

[7] Human Rights Watch, “Crimea: Conscription Violates International Law”. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/01/crimea-conscription-violates-international-law