The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) uncovered a scheme along with its counterparts in Moldova to help Ukrainians of draft age escape to Transnistria, a Russian-occupied region in Moldova, the SBU reported on Jan. 4.
Under martial law that has been in place since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, it is prohibited for men aged 18-60 to leave Ukraine, barring special circumstances. The BBC reported in November that almost 20,000 Ukrainian men had illegally left the country since February 2022, citing information from neighboring countries.
Ukrainian authorities revealed that more than 21,000 had been apprehended by border guards while trying to cross, the BBC added.
The majority of those caught were attempting to walk or swim across the border, but almost 7,000 tried to use falsified documents.
As part of the joint operation, the SBU and its Moldovan counterparts caught conspirators both in Transnistria and Odesa. The main organizers of the scheme were from Transnistria and had both Moldovan and Ukrainian passports.
The SBU reported that they had accomplices in Moldova and Ukraine who helped with the process of escorting escapees across the border and finding potential clients.
The cost of the service could be up to $5,000, depending on the urgency of the request.
This was not the first case of Ukrainian authorities discovering schemes to help men illegally leave the country and evade mobilization.
Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigation reported on an "unprecedented" plot in November 2023 involving regional military enlistment offices and the falsification of documents. More than 100 men are suspected of using the falsified documents to try and leave the country.
A nationwide inspection of Ukraine's recruitment offices in August 2023 revealed multiple violations, including corruption, abuse of power, and fraud, prompting President Volodymyr Zelensky to fire the heads of all regional military enlistment offices.
Zelensky said that a total of 112 criminal cases have been opened against Ukrainian enlistment officials, and 33 people have been charged.