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Ukraine’s parliament scraps demobilization plans in bid to boost military

<i>Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Ukrainian soldiers are seen at their base in Donetsk
Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Ukrainian soldiers are seen at their base in Donetsk

By Christian Edwards, Olga Voitovych and Victoria Butenko, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine’s parliament has scrapped plans to give soldiers who have spent prolonged periods fighting on the frontlines the chance to return home on rotation, after passing a draft law seeking to boost the number of soldiers in its military.

Ukrainian lawmakers have for months debated whether to allow the longest-serving of Ukraine’s soldiers the chance to return home, or whether Russia’s unrelenting aggression means they cannot afford to allow exhausted soldiers to rest – an invidious dilemma that has sparked public outcry.

Soldiers serving for more than 36 months were originally slated to be allowed to demobilize and return home, but the provision was removed from a draft law following an intervention by Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and military commander Oleksandr Syrskyi, according to Ukrainian lawmakers.

The draft law passed Thursday with 283 votes in favor, including a raft of measures aimed at providing a desperately needed boost for Ukraine’s military, primarily through making draft evasion more difficult. The law received 4,269 amendments over months of debate – a measure of how politically difficult crafting the legislation has been.

A new electronic registry will be set up, allowing Ukraine to ditch its paper-based system. When the law comes into force, those liable for military service will have 60 days to register either in person or through the electronic system; those who do not register will be deemed to be dodging the draft. Men will then have to carry their registration documents with them in public.

While soldiers will receive improved pay and longer leave periods, the bill did not set a deadline on the time soldiers must spend on the battlefield. It said the government must submit new legislation to improve the “rotation of military personnel under martial law,” meaning the issue of demobilization is likely to remain active.

“The enemy outnumbers us seven to 10 times [in eastern Ukraine]. We have a shortage of personnel,” Yurii Sodol, Commander of the Joint Forces of Ukraine’s military, told Ukrainian lawmakers on Wednesday, urging them to pass the draft law.

As well as manpower, Ukraine is grappling with ammunition shortages. The commander of US European Command, Gen. Chris Cavoli, warned Wednesday that the Russians are currently firing five times as many artillery shells as the Ukrainians – a number he said will rise to 10 to one “in a matter of weeks.”

Dozens of wives and relatives of servicemen gathered outside Ukraine’s parliament Thursday to protest the passing of the draft law, demanding that demobilization deadlines be included.

Anastasia Bulba, whose husband Vitalii volunteered to join the military immediately after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, told CNN that Ukraine’s soldiers “have been left without terms of service and with no idea when they will be able to return to their families.”

“The country’s defenders, on whom the independence of the entire country rests, have been deceived,” she said.

“We all understand that mobilization has failed, without which there is no demobilization. And this is the fault of the authorities, not our husbands,” she added.

Some service members were outraged by the decision. “This is demotivating and demoralizing for the military,” Artem, a soldier serving at an artillery unit, told CNN. “There is no motivation whatsoever. If there was a clear draft law that [we need] to serve a year, or two, or three. Otherwise, it’s just demotivating since no one knows when, where and for how long the person should serve.”

Others were more stoic. “Postponing the consideration of demobilization is unfair, but the world is unfair in general,” a soldier of the 47th brigade, who volunteered on the first day of the war and is currently fighting near Avdiivka, told CNN. “Demobilization will be possible when the recruits are trained. Properly trained.”

Dmytro, a volunteer member of Ukraine’s National Guard currently fighting in the east, said, “Demobilization is necessary for people to rest. Otherwise it’s like there is an entrance [to fight], but there is no exit – except becoming a disabled person or death.”

The issue of mobilization has bedeviled Ukrainian lawmakers for months, as the needs of its military clash with political constraints.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the former commander of Ukraine’s military, wrote in a CNN op-ed in February that Ukraine “must acknowledge the significant advantage enjoyed by the enemy in mobilizing human resources and how that compares with the inability of state institutions in Ukraine to improve the manpower levels of our armed forces without the use of unpopular measures.”

Zaluzhnyi reportedly asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to bolster Ukraine’s military with 500,000 new troops. Although Zaluzhnyi denied he had specifically requested that number, it became lodged in public debate.

Zelensky took issue with the figure publicly, telling journalists at a press conference, “This is a very serious number. It is a question about people, about justice, about defense capabilities. It is also a financial question.” Zaluzhnyi was then dismissed in February.

Zelensky later told CNN that, while mobilizing more troops was a priority, “it is a question of how fair recruitment should be.”

“The most important issue is rotation of the people who are very tired at the front line… Mobilization depends on how many you have at the front, how many reserves you have,” he said.

Zelensky last week signed a law that will lower Ukraine’s minimum conscription age from 27 to 25. The Ukrainian parliament passed the measure in May 2023 but the president did not sign it into law until nearly a year later.

It is not clear when the draft law passed Thursday will receive presidential approval.

Ukraine woke Thursday after another night of heavy Russian strikes on its energy infrastructure. The Trypilska Thermal Power Plant (TPP), the largest power-generating plant in Kyiv region, was destroyed, and strikes on the northeastern Kharkiv region left more than 200,000 people without electricity. Odesa, Lviv, Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv regions were also targeted.

The wave of missile and drone attacks caused major power outages in Kharkiv region and has left more than 200,000 people without electricity, Ukrainian officials said. Odesa, Lviv, Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv regions were also targeted.

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CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting.

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