From Captivity to Combat: Ukrainian Prisoners Rally to Strengthen Military

Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed that soldier-prisoners must be treated equally just like everyone else

by Sead Dedovic
SHARE
From Captivity to Combat: Ukrainian Prisoners Rally to Strengthen Military
© Finnbarr Webster / Getty Images

What was previously spoken of has now become the truth. Namely, the Minister of Justice, Denys Maliuska, confirmed that around 600 prisoners have joined the Ukrainian military and are currently undergoing training. 

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has spoken numerous times about the need for infantry, given that Ukrainians have lost a large number of soldiers. However, the main problem lies not so much in that but rather in the fact that many Ukrainians do not want to be mobilized or have already left the country. The Ukrainian leader emphasized that without military strength and soldiers, it is difficult to achieve the goal in this war. 

Zelenskyy knew that concrete steps had to be taken, so he decided to give prisoners the opportunity, all with the aim of enabling Ukrainians to resist. In the past three days, a staggering 4,300 soldiers have volunteered for military service. Judging by media reports, the units will consist of people who have already served their military sentences. 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed that soldier-prisoners must be treated equally just like everyone else, as they are an integral part of the Ukrainian army. 

Russian forces continue to attack firmly, ready to exploit the weaknesses of Ukrainians that have been ongoing for some time. Considering the lack of weaponry and personnel, Ukrainians have lost some territory. This is an additional motivation for the Russians, who want to advance and take another step. 

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska exit Bristol Hotel as they move towards the
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska exit Bristol Hotel as they move towards the © Omar Marques / Getty Images
 

Following the new measure, which offers conditional release to convicts in exchange for joining the army, the Ukrainian president will influence a large number of Ukrainian prisoners to go to the front with the intention of defending the country. According to some predictions, up to 20,000 inmates could sign up, but it seems that these are more optimistic forecasts than the current reality. 

It is also interesting to note that the Ukrainian leader has banned military service for those convicted of serious crimes such as murder and rape. Russians had already begun with the same philosophy, even two years ago, when they allowed prisoners to go to the front. The difference between Ukraine and Russia is that Russians allow even convicts sentenced for serious criminal offenses to go to the front.

Andrii Kharuk explains Zelenskyy's moves

Andrii Kharuk, a Ukrainian military historian, emphasized a few days ago that Ukrainians have problems with personnel shortages, so such moves were inevitable to strengthen Ukrainians on the front lines. The Ukrainian army has had an extremely difficult task in the last month; Russians are attacking stronger than ever, aware that Ukrainians are facing difficulties.

"The army of Ukraine is facing an increasingly acute problem of personnel shortages, and the involvement of prisoners can slightly reduce the acuteness of this problem," Andrii Kharuk said, as quoted by CBC.

Some have raised the question of why Ukrainians did not take such steps earlier, considering they could have helped in defending the country. Kharuk believes that there is a specific factor that prevented this outcome from occurring

"In my opinion, at the beginning of the war, Ukraine failed to mobilize prisoners for ethical reasons," said Kharuk. 

He also believes that Ukrainians wanted to send a somewhat different message compared to the Russians, who allowed prisoners to be on the front lines much earlier. Ukrainians want to show that it is an honor to be part of the army, rather than showing that in this way, prisoners avoid punishment. Zelenskyy is a person who puts the country first, and then everything else.

"Against the background of the mass recruitment of prisoners into the Russian army, it was important to demonstrate that Ukraine interprets service in the army as an honourable duty of a citizen, and not as a way to avoid punishment for criminal penalties."

Cameron McKay, historian, explains the recruitment of Ukrainian prisoners

Cameron McKay, a historian, highlighted in an email that the shortage of manpower played a crucial role in the decision to allow criminals to join the military.

Initially, individuals facing legal charges who expressed a willingness to serve in the military instead of going to prison were typically rejected. However, as the war continued, there was a shift, and more defendants were permitted to enlist over time.

This has happened in the past when looking at other wars. When times call for radical and unpredictable measures, it is necessary to take such steps. War often brings about what cannot even be imagined, so decisions are made accordingly, which are hard to imagine in peacetime. Ukrainians know they must defend their country and are willing to do so by any means necessary. Russians, on the other hand, also appear ready to achieve their goal by any means.

Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy
SHARE