Ukrainians Forcibly Recruited to Russian Army
Kyiv is pursuing the illegal mobilisation of those living under occupation as a war crime.
Ukraine is prosecuting incidents of forced mobilisation of its citizens within territories occupied by Russia, with moves underway to send evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further action.
The practice has been ongoing since Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and almost 40,000 Ukrainian citizens are understood to have been illegally mobilised.
Currently, hundreds of Ukrainian men are being trained in special camps to serve in the Russian army in the occupied territories of the eastern and southern regions.
The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general is pursuing numerous such cases as war crimes, and court verdicts have already been issued sentencing so-called “military commissars” responsible for the conscription to up to 12 years in prison.
The prosecutor general’s office said in a statement that "according to the information available in the materials of criminal proceedings based on the facts of conscription campaigns conducted by the occupation authorities, a total of more than 34,000 people from the occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol [have been conscripted since 2014]”.
However, following the beginning of the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, "information on the number of such conscripts is closed," the statement continued. This also applied to those mobilised in the occupied territories of Luhansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Nonetheless, on May 18, ministry of defence deputy Hanna Malyar confirmed that Ukrainian citizens were being illegally mobilised in the occupied south and east of the country.
"In some settlements on the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, the Russian invaders are carrying out raids and detaining local residents ... As a rule, those arrested in this way are sent to specially equipped field camps, in which criminals brought from Russian prisons who have agreed to participate in hostilities are already there," she said.
Malyar explained that several such camps were currently operational near the settlements of Rohove and Mozhnikivka in the Luhansk region, where local Ukrainian men who "were detained for minor offences and did not agree to support the occupiers" were held along with Russian prisoners.
According to the ministry of defence, more than 800 people are being held in these camps, undergoing combat training activities.
Servant of the People lawmaker Maryana Bezugla, a member of the parliamentary committee on national security, defence and intelligence, told IWPR that while some conscripts signed up of their own free will, coercion was a key factor.
She noted that forced mobilisation was not widely spread in the more recently occupied territories of Ukraine “because there, the population is actively resisting using various methods.
“As for the territories occupied since 2014, of course, unfortunately, there are many such confirmations, when our children, who were teenagers before the occupation, are now forcibly taken to the ranks of the so-called DPR-LPR and are fighting against Ukraine,” she continued.
Bezugla stressed the difference between "coercion and desire to fight”.
“Unfortunately, there are indeed facts when some citizens in the temporarily occupied territories are positive about [fighting]. This is the result of systematic propaganda, which was aimed specifically at the younger generation. Those who were 15 [in 2014] and are now 23 are fighting against us. But they don't know another reality".
She emphasised that many Ukrainians had been forced to join the Russian army, particularly in the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
“In particular, according to our data, this applies to Lysychansk, Soledar, Severodonetsk – which was occupied after the full-scale invasion,” she said. “There, the men were forcibly taken immediately after the occupation."
Bezugla added that "the architecture of using such people on the battlefield is very rigid and totalitarian according to the Soviet type,” with reports that they were forced into special detachments and drugged. Any attempt to escape risked execution.
“It's a real horror when such Ukrainians don't really have the right to choose and hope to save their lives," she concluded.
The law enforcement agencies of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as of Crimea are currently conducting pre-trial investigations in 18 criminal cases under article 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine "on the facts of forced conscription of citizens of Ukraine for military service in the ranks of the enemy”.
According to the prosecutor general's office, 19 people have been notified of suspicions against them. Five indictments have sent to court and two people have been tried and convicted.
In addition, the prosecutor's office of Crimea is working on 11 criminal proceedings regarding the illegal mobilisation and conscription of Crimeans, pursuant to Part 1 of Art. 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine concerning the "violation of the laws and customs of war".
"For the people who committed such illegal actions, the criminal code of Ukraine prescribes a penalty of imprisonment for a term of eight to 12 years," the prosecutor general's office said.
Investigators obtained evidence of the involvement of ten so-called military commissars in Crimea who forced people to serve in the armed forces of the occupying country on the territory of the peninsula. These persons were also notified of the suspicions under Part 1 of Art. 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine.
On January 30, 2023, the Darnytskyi district court of Kyiv city found the so-called military commissar of Crimea’s Simferopol district and the city of Alushta guilty of committing a criminal offence provided for in Part 1 of Art 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The Darnytskyi district court of Kyiv city issued a verdict on April 24, 2023, finding the so-called military commissar of the city of Feodosiya and the Kirovsky district of Crimea guilty of the same offence and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
The trial against the so-called military commissar of the city and district of Krasnoperekopsk is ongoing.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is also investigating forced mobilisation.
The prosecutor's office of Crimea, in cooperation with public organisations, has sent two reports to the prosecutor general on the illegal conscription of civilians into the Russian army, for further referral to the International Criminal Court, in accordance with Article 15 of the Rome Statute.
“They were taken into account by the prosecutor of the ICC during the completion of the stage of the preliminary search of the Situation in Ukraine case and the transition to the next stage," the office of the prosecutor general said in a statement.
Oleksandr Danilov, a human rights defender and lawyer with the Mercy and Health Foundation, said that it was crucial to leave occupied territory wherever possible to avoid this risk of forced mobilisation. The risks were also increasing for Ukrainians in the Russian Federation or Belarus, he continued.
"If it is not possible to leave occupied territory, then it is worth changing the place of residence within its borders. It is advisable to change your phone number in case this means of communication is used in mobilisation. If possible, avoid working in occupation law enforcement agencies or for the occupation authorities, and do not receive a passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation. This is the minimum that can be done," Danilov said.
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.