20,000 Ukrainian men have fled the country to avoid being drafted

20,000 Ukrainian men have fled the country to avoid being drafted, with dozens escaping daily – even swimming across rivers to avoid going to war

  • As many as 21,113 have unsuccessfully tried to leave, often fleeing conscription

Nearly 20,000 men have fled Ukraine to avoid conscription since the beginning of the war last February, data shows.

Between February 2022 and August 2023, as many as 19,740 fled Ukraine illegally into Romania, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – with dozens continuing to leave daily.

More than 21,000 have also attempted to leave the country since Russia’s brutal invasion but have been turned back by Ukrainian authorities, according to Kyiv.

While most men aged 18-60 have been banned from leaving Ukraine, the BBC has revealed some are even prepared to swim across the border to join family, study or work elsewhere.

Vlad, who fled across the Tisa River with a friend, said he left as there were no viable work opportunities in Ukraine, and claimed he was aware of others crossing with smugglers via social media platform Telegram.

He told the broadcaster that for £3,472, illegal outfits could draw up a medical exemption certificate, allowing Ukrainians to leave and come back as they pleased.

Fedir Venislavskyi, President Zelensky’s parliamentary representative, said Ukraine was not overly concerned by people leaving, claiming ‘those who try to avoid mobilisation are about 1-5%. They are definitely not critical to the defence of Ukraine.’

But he did suggest corrupt military medical commissions were becoming more lenient with exemptions, allowing thousands to get out of serving in the armed forces.

A resident cleans up fallen leaves near her destroyed house on October 26 in Avdiivka, Ukraine

A Ukrainian armoured vehicle rides on a road near the front line in Donetsk, November 16

A Ukrainian serviceman guards his position in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 12, 2022

In Ukraine, there are exemptions from conscription given to men with health issues, caring responsibilities or with three or more children.

But Ukraine’s President has warned that there has been a tenfold increase in exemptions since February last year, blaming corruption among medical military commissions.

READ MORE: Russia admits Ukrainian troops have crossed the Dnipro river and set up positions on its crucial east bank in latest blow for Putin – but Kremlin warns ‘fiery hell’ awaits Zelensky’s men 

Mr Venislavskyi told the BBC: ‘The government realises that this phenomenon is not isolated and that it is widespread. But unfortunately, I would emphasise that corruption is very resilient.’

He added that the scale of people seeking to leave Ukraine was also not having an impact on the war.

‘I am convinced that the resilience and readiness of Ukrainians to defend their independence, sovereignty and freedom is 95-99%,’ Mr Venislavskyi told the BBC. 

But Ukraine has endured heavy losses in its steady war of attrition with Russia in recent months.

In August, the US estimated as many as 70,000 could have been killed – a significant proportion of the 800,000 reported to be in Ukraine’s armed forces in September.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine reports its number of casualties.

Ukraine is currently looking to break the deadlock by establishing a stable landing on the occupied side of the Dnipro river, enabling a stronger line of attack from the south.

Ukraine’s Marine Corp said Friday that their forces had carried out a series of attacks on the Russian-occupied east bank near the southern city of Kherson.

The waterway is the de facto frontline in the south of the country, but Russia conceded for the first time this week that Ukrainian forces had claimed back some territory on the opposing bank.

‘The Defense Forces of Ukraine conducted a series of successful operations on the left bank of the Dnipro River, along the Kherson front,’ the marines said in a statement on social media.

‘In cooperation with other units of the Defense Forces, managed to gain a foothold on several bridgeheads,’ the statement added.

A group of Ukrainian marines sail from the riverbank of Dnipro at the frontline near Kherson, Ukraine, Saturday, October 14, 2023

Ukrainian service members fire a mortar during an exercise in Kyiv region, November 8, 2023

Firefighters work to put out fire at a house that was hit by shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, October 24, 2023

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been entrenched on opposite sides of the Dnipro river since Moscow withdrew from the western part of Kherson region last November.

The Russian-installed official responsible for occupied Kherson this week conceded that some Ukrainian soldiers were ‘blocked’ in Krynky, a small village on the Dnipro’s eastern bank of the Dnipro river, and were facing a ‘fiery hell’ from Russian artillery, rockets and drones.

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