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Ukraine could recruit up to 20,000 convicts into army, Justice Minister says

by Elsa Court May 10, 2024 11:28 AM 2 min read
Justice Minister Denys Maliuska gives an interview with Ukrainian news media on Feb. 29, 2024 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Vitalii Nosach/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Ukraine could fill its ranks with as many as 20,000 convicts in a move that would also help ease overcrowding in Ukrainian prisons, Justice Minister Denys Maliuska told BBC Ukraine in an interview published on May 10.

Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a bill on May 8 that permits those convicted of certain offenses to serve in the military, paving the way for the voluntary mobilization of prisoners.

The proposal was first submitted to the parliament in March as part of Ukraine's efforts to replenish the ranks of the Armed Forces amid the ongoing war with Russia.

Deputy Justice Minister Olena Vysotska told Suspilne in March that the proposal could free up 50,000 recruits among those who had already served their sentence, as well as 26,000 of those who are currently imprisoned.

Maliuska said he supported the bill but that it is up to Ukraine's Armed Forces "to determine who is suitable for them and who is not."

While prisoners who are serving sentences due to "extreme" crimes should be left to serve their sentences, Ukraine could recruit 10,000 to 20,000 convicts, Maliuska estimated.

"The question is in approaches. I say the numbers are completely uncalculated, because depending on each scenario, the number will be different," Maliuska said.

Maliuska acknowledged that the move could echo Russia's policy of recruiting prisoners, 50,000 of whom joined the notorious Wagner Group in 2022 and were deployed in costly assaults against Ukrainian positions.

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War Notes

Russian prisoners who survived six months of combat had their convictions pardoned upon completion.

"Of course, there is a parallel. You should not deceive yourself, but it is still a matter of a difference in approaches," Maliuska said.

Maliuska also argued that recruiting convicts would help solve overcrowding in Ukrainian prisons.

Though the number of inmates per prison fluctuates depending on the region and type of detention, "the concentration of people per average institution has increased significantly" since the start of the full-scale invasion, Maliuska said.

Pre-trial detention centers face the most overcrowding, "and in big cities there is huge overcrowding," Maliuska said.

Prisons are becoming increasingly overcrowded due to the evacuation of some inmates from front-line regions, as well as the fact that many of Ukraine's prisons in the south and east are in territories under Russian occupation.

Another reason is due to "new categories of war-related crimes," such as collaboration with Russia, Maliuska said.

There are now more weapons in circulation among the general population, which has caused "an increase in the number of crimes related to firearms."

"I am advocating for the mobilization of prisoners and convicts so as not to violate the regulations on the number of people per a certain area," Maliuska said.

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