Draft Dodging Growing Concern in Ukraine During Ongoing Russia Conflict

PHOTO: Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an APC near the village of Sakhanka, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 27, 2014.Sergei Grits/AP Photo
Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an APC near the village of Sakhanka, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 27, 2014.

Victor, just like an unknown number of other Ukrainians of military age, is on the run.

As the Ukraine-Russia conflict rages on, a 49-year-old engineer received a mobilization invitation ten days ago to report to the Ukrainian Army. He left his home and now spends nights at a friend’s house, struggling with a difficult choice.

“It is my biggest dilemma,” he said today, almost whispering in one of many coffee shops in Kiev downtown. “On one hand, I think I need to defend my country, which is being attacked, but on the other, I am frightened I will die for this corrupt regime. For what?"

Ukraine recently announced a fourth wave of mobilization, which is supposed to recruit about 50,000 men, ages 25 to 60, to replace soldiers who have been serving in a war zone in the east of the country.

Victor’s friend, a 50 year old painter, who did not want to give his real name, said his family wants him to leave the country to avoid the order.

"I am doing everything not to go to the army, I am sleeping at my wife’s uncle’s house, but I have nowhere to go abroad. I do not want to fight, everyone is trying not to fight. Nobody wants to die for corrupted politicians in this regime or for this wretched Donetsk!”

Ukrainian military prosecution has launched some 1,300 criminal cases with prison terms for draft dodging that can range from two to five years.

Ruslan Kotsaba, an Ukrainian journalist and an outspoken campaigner against the draft, was arrested last week in his hometown in western Ukraine. In his recent video address to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Kotsaba claimed he would rather spend up to five years in jail for draft dodging than start killing his “fellow citizens who live in the east."

Now, Kotsaba actually faces up to 15 years behind bars, because SBU, the Security Service of Ukraine, has accused him of state treason and obstruction to activity of military forces. According to SBU advisor Markian Lubkivsky, SBU found evidence of Kotsaba’s crimes among his belongings.

The conflict’s death toll is more than 5,000 since it broke out last April.

With Kiev’s population estimated now at three million people, there are many people that are not registered as it is required by law. Also, there are many apartments that are still registered on the names of distant relatives.

“We move from place to place,” said Victor. "It is always in Kiev, it is the only terrain we know and it’s always best to hide in a big city."

Ukrainian authorizes are playing down difficulties to draft war-weary citizens in fight against rebels, who appear to be well equipped and trained by Russia.

“About 60 percent of people who got draft orders responded and are already in the training centers,” Vladislav Selezniov, the spokesman for Ukrainian General Staff, told ABC News.

“We even have 100 women, mostly nurses and doctors,” he added. "We are looking for people with military experience and training in the first place."