Vladimir Putin Releases Women from Prison to Send Them to War

In a controversial move, Vladimir Putin has started releasing women from Russian prisons to bolster military forces in Ukraine

by Sededin Dedovic
Vladimir Putin Releases Women from Prison to Send Them to War
© Handout / Getty Images

Russia released a group of women from prison at the end of May to join the fighting in Ukraine, revealed two former prisoners, according to the New York Times. It remains unclear whether their release is an isolated case, a pilot program, or the beginning of a larger wave of recruitment of female prisoners.

Military commanders started visiting women’s prisons across the European part of Russia more than a year after offering pardons and salaries to male prisoners in exchange for going to the frontlines. However, until now, women who signed up to go to the war in Ukraine remained in prisons without an official explanation.

Tens of thousands of convicted Russians have accepted the military’s call. Thousands have already been killed in Ukraine, and some have committed serious crimes after being released. By recruiting female prisoners, Russia is trying to avoid mobilizing the civilian population.

$2,000 Salary

It is not known what roles women would take on the front lines. Last year, military recruiters visited a prison near Saint Petersburg and offered inmates contracts for positions as snipers, medical personnel, and radio operators on the front line for one year, a significant shift from the mostly auxiliary roles that women soldiers usually hold.

Around 40 out of 400 inmates applied. They were offered pardons and a salary of around $2,000 per month, about ten times the minimum wage in Russia. Two women who witnessed the recruitment in prisons last year told the Times that inmates applied despite the dangers highlighted by the visiting soldiers.

They Sign Up Due to Horrible Prison Conditions

One reason women join the military, former prisoners say, is the terrible conditions in Russian prisons. Inmates near Saint Petersburg are prohibited from talking and work up to 12 hours a day in prison workshops, even in low temperatures.

Besides Russia, Ukraine also uses prisoners in the war. The Kyiv government approved a similar measure last month, and Ukrainian officials announced that thousands of convicts have since applied.

Russia Increased Human Resources

In a written statement, General Christopher Cavoli, head of the European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, recently warned that the Russian military now has more personnel than when it launched the full invasion in February 2022.

Moscow also increased its front-line troops from 360,000 to 470,000 soldiers, he noted. "Russia is reconstructing this force far faster than our initial estimates suggested," Cavoli wrote. "The army is now actually 15 percent larger than it was when it invaded Ukraine." The general also told senators that Russia has compensated for its heavy tank losses on the battlefield and now operates with the same number of tanks in Ukraine as at the start of the full-scale conflict.

Manpower a Problem for Ukrainians

Badly needed ammunition supplies and modern weapons systems will solve one of the two major problems faced by Ukrainian defenders. However, new weapons will not be useful to Kyiv without people to operate them, and a lack of soldiers is a sore point in the plans of Ukraine's high command.

Field of Mars cemetery for soldiers killed during Russian Agression on Ukraine© Sean Gallup / getty Images

The Ukrainian military is desperately trying to find recruits to replace those who have been killed or wounded, as well as exhausted soldiers who have supported the front line for months.

In the spring of 2022, volunteers were queuing to join the defense, but as it seems the war will drag on indefinitely, enthusiasm has significantly waned. In April, Volodymyr Zelensky approved measures allowing the military to mobilize more soldiers and tighten penalties for draft dodging.

The age limit for mobilization was lowered from 27 to 25 years. Moreover, as of May 18, individuals attempting to avoid mobilization will lose their driver’s licenses, and their bank accounts may be frozen, and property seized.

The government also announced that it is withdrawing consular connections to draft Ukrainians living abroad, such as in Poland and Lithuania. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says he is aware that few will return home, but he said it was a symbolic move because "the guys in the trenches are very tired" while their colleagues in the rest of Europe "sit in restaurants." Last month, the Ukrainian parliament passed a measure allowing the military mobilization of some prisoners in exchange for conditional release.

The new measure is expected to strengthen the armed forces with just a few of the total 20,000 prisoners, said MP David Arakhamia. It does not apply to those who have committed the most serious crimes—convicted of premeditated murder of two or more persons, rape, crimes against national security, and serious corruption offenses.

both Russia and Ukraine are increasingly relying on prisoner recruitment to bolster their military ranks amid ongoing conflict. This strategy highlights the severe manpower challenges they face, reflecting the prolonged nature of the war and the dire conditions driving inmates to join the fight despite significant risks.

Vladimir Putin Russian Ukraine