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Ukraine to shake up recruitment as new soldiers prove scarce

Lilia Rzheutska
November 12, 2023

Ukraine's army is running short on personnel as its war with Russia drags on. In an effort to make military service more palatable, the government is overhauling its recruitment policy.

Campaign billboard for service in the Ukrainian army
Adverts are supposed to help the Ukrainian Army fill its ranksImage: David Allignon/Maxppp/picture alliance

The number of Ukrainians willing to do military service has dwindled over the 20 months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces, flagged the issue during a recent interview with The Economist.

"The prolonged nature of the war, limited opportunities for the rotation of soldiers on the line of contact, gaps in legislation that seem to legally evade mobilization significantly reduce the motivation of citizens to serve with the military," he told the British magazine.

Military psychologist Andriy Kozinchuk, who also serves as an officer on the front line, shares this assessment. "We're running out of people on the front line," Kozinchuk told DW. "They're dying, getting mutilated, sick or old."

"Three soldiers in my battalion were sent home because they turned 60," Kozinchuk said. "I myself am currently in hospital. There is a lack of fighters. Without people, we won't be able to do anything, even if we have modern drones, tanks and airplanes. They are controlled by people."

Ukrainian Army Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi delivers a speech
Zaluzhnyi wants to expand the circle of citizens who can be called up for military serviceImage: Photoshot/picture alliance

Other commanders have also publicly stated that the army must be expanded, its units strengthened and rotation made possible. Military personnel say one issue is that there is no clear deadline for the demobilization of soldiers who have now served for over a year and a half. This puts off people who would actually like to join the army otherwise.

Motivating Ukraine's next soldiers

Ukraine's government is looking for ways to make signing up for military service more palatable. The Digital Transformation Ministry has come up with a "smart mobilization" pilot project to allow Ukrainians to look for military roles themselves.

"A person decides to control drones or even just generally serve in a combat drone unit. You can be a combat engineer or a driver. All roles are available," said Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who is overseeing the project.

"The most important thing is that if you apply and pass the tests, you'll get training and you'll definitely end up in a combat drone company. You will definitely get the role you applied for."

Draft dodgers: Ukrainian men fleeing conscription

Zaluzhnyi is also promising military training under the supervision of senior personnel: "We are also introducing a 'combat training program,' which involves placing newly mobilized and trained personnel in experienced front-line units to prepare them."

Kozinchuk believes that this will motivate civilians to join the army.

"I don't believe in forcing anyone," he said. "We can counteract this by explaining to people how important it is to identify with the state and to have a choice. If someone knows what they want, they will fight for it."

New training for conscription-aged Ukrainians

One idea to increase recruitment is to give potential recruits a detailed and honest description of the advantages and disadvantages of service. A good example, according to security expert Oleksiy Melnyk from the Razumkov Research Centre in Kyiv, was the recruitment campaign of the Third Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Their advertisements are distributed on posters in the cities, but also on social media.

According to Melnyk, such a campaign is much more effective than summonses to army enlistment centers. The basic approach is voluntary service and good information.

Military recruitment poster for the Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Army, in Ukrainian
"Fight" reads a military recruitment poster on the streets of KyivImage: DW

"This is how you get motivated people who best meet the requirements," Melnyk said.

This approach seems to be at the heart of the new recruitment policy up until 2028, which was confirmed by Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov. The plan is to introduce service on a contract basis. Compulsory military service is apparently to be replaced by intensive military training for citizens of conscription age.

According to the Defense Ministry, Ukraine will use a people-centered approach to develop an effective system for recruiting professional and motivated personnel for the armed forces. The new policy will take into account the training and professional development of military personnel as well as gender equality, according to authorities.

The ministry has also promised military personnel efficient and transparent pay plus guaranteed accommodation.

This article was originally written in Ukrainian.