Ukraine moves to send convicts to the front line — minus the rapists and killers

Those convicted of particularly serious crimes, and some categories of corrupt officials, will not be allowed to choose the front over a jail cell.

May 9, 2024 - 00:36
Ukraine moves to send convicts to the front line — minus the rapists and killers

KYIV — In an attempt to bolster troop ranks, the Ukrainian parliament on Wednesday passed a bill on the voluntary mobilization of convicts for the country’s war with Russia.

However, those who committed serious crimes including murder, rape, terrorism, dealing drugs and treason, will be ineligible to trade their jail terms for the defense of their country.

So, what’s in it for the convicts? If they decide to mobilize, local courts may grant them conditional early release in exchange for their military service, on the basis of a contract.

Thereafter, they will be returned to prison only if they commit another crime before the end of their service; they must also serve until Kyiv announces demobilization.

After weeks of pressure from civil society, parliament ruled that MPs and some top government officials who have committed crimes would be ineligible to have their sentences commuted, Ukrainian MP Yaroslav Zheleznyak said in a Telegram post from the parliament on Wednesday.

Other prisoners, as long as they weren’t convicted of a serious crime, face one condition — no more than three years may remain before the end of their sentences. Requests to be allowed to fight in exchange for freedom must be approved by the courts.

The Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kyiv-based watchdog, called the vote “a victory with a bitter taste,” given that not all types of corrupt officials were excluded from the law’s provisions.

“The list [of those excluded] does not include officials of the President’s Office, heads of state-owned enterprises, investigators, prosecutors and judges. Thus, part of the work of anti-corruption bodies in previous years may go under the cat’s tail [be in vain],” the watchdog said in a statement.

“After all, many judges, prosecutors and other officials convicted of corruption are already serving their sentences, [and] will now be able to use this mechanism and get out of prison.”

Desperate for recruits after a six-month delay in declaring mobilization, Ukraine’s MPs took a page straight from the book of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary force — which also allows convicts to reduce their jail terms through military service.

The lawmakers hope a regulated, voluntary process will allow Kyiv to mobilize up to 10,000 convicts for the war. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy must sign the bill before it can take effect.

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