President Volodymyr Zelensky on Dec. 1 said changes to mobilization are necessary as he ordered a strategic turn focused on defense following a lackluster counteroffensive in Ukraine’s southern regions.
“Everything necessary for our state, our brigades. These specific results must be calculated precisely. This includes issues of mobilization,” Zelensky said.
In November, the BBC reported official EU data revealing 650,000 Ukrainian men of fighting age had fled Ukraine and received residency in Europe. The real figure is thought to be much higher because many refugees are not officially registered in the EU or may have fled to other popular destinations such as the U.S. or Canada.
“Everyone in Ukraine understands that changes are needed in this area,” Zelensky stressed.
Under martial law, male citizens between the ages of 18–60 are generally prohibited from leaving the country. Exemptions exist for medical, education, and business reasons.
“These are comprehensive things that military leadership and the Ministry of Defense have to work out and present to the staff for approval.”
Mobilization is a highly controversial topic in Ukraine because it is widely known that bribes can be paid to avoid being drafted. Falsified medical certificates can be purchased for as little as $3,000.
Zelensky in August dismissed all officials in charge of regional military recruitment centers amid a widespread corruption scandal, vowing criminal investigations into profiteering schemes.
But both the quantity and quality of fresh recruits have been lacking as the war drags on.
“Ukraine needs infantry in top physical shape,” a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told the Financial Times on Nov. 26.
The average age of Ukrainian troops on the battlefield is 30-40, or about a decade older than usual recruits.
The shift in strategy comes as Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered an increase of 170,000 troops for Russia’s armed forces.