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Thousands of Ukrainian Convicts Hit the Frontlines as War with Russia Drags On


By: Jake Smith, Daily Caller News Foundation

Ukraine released thousands of prisoners to fight on the frontlines of the war with Russia as the country’s military struggles with low manpower.

Inmates are being offered a choice: stay in prison and serve out their sentences or join the fight against Russia in exchange for the possibility of parole, according to The Associated Press. The policy is a first for Ukraine as the country double-times its efforts to bring more people into the military in the ongoing fight against Russia, which has a considerably higher manpower advantage.

More than 3,000 prisoners have already taken the deal and have been released into the military, according to the AP. Roughly 27,000 inmates could be eligible for release, prisoners who have been convicted of sexual assault, two or more murders, or crimes against the state’s national security are ineligible.

“You can put an end to this and start a new life,” a Ukrainian military recruiter told prisoners at a penal colony in southern Ukraine, according to an AP reporter present. “The main thing is your will, because you are going to defend the motherland. You won’t succeed at 50%, you have to give 100% of yourself, even 150%.”

Once they are screened and deemed fit for service, inmates are sent to basic training camps to learn combat and weapons fundamentals, according to the AP. Additional training is conducted once the inmates are placed in individual military units.

“A lot of the motivation comes from (inmates) wanting to return home a hero, and not to return home from prison,” Ukrainian Deputy Justice Minister Olena Vysotska told the AP.

Russia has enacted a similar policy and sent thousands of prisoners to fight in the war, but Ukrainian officials say the programs aren’t the same, according to the AP. Russia has taken prisoners and thrown them on the frontlines of the conflict to serve as fodder for its war machine, with little consideration for the inmate’s odds of being killed in the conflict, the officials said.

Unlike Russia, manpower shortages have been an ongoing problem for the Ukrainian military. Ukrainian forces have struggled to maintain their position and have been forced to withdraw from key locations on the eastern front of the war amid advances from Russian forces.

To keep the war going and backfill manpower losses, Russia is pushing to recruit thousands of new soldiers, The New York Times reported in late June. Between 25,000 and 30,000 troops are being recruited every month, U.S. officials told the Times.

The U.S. and Western nations have flooded Ukraine with military aid since the war began in 2022, but it has failed to turn the tide in Kyiv’s direction, instead only providing enough for Ukrainian forces to mostly maintain a defensive position. Former defense officials previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it is in Ukraine’s best interests to negotiate a peace settlement with Russia as quickly as possible, as a military victory is highly unlikely.

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