NewsKyiv halts consular services, pressuring expats to fight

Kyiv halts consular services, pressuring expats to fight

War in Ukraine / Ukrainian passport office in Warsaw
War in Ukraine / Ukrainian passport office in Warsaw
Images source: © WP, Zelenskyi

6:34 AM EDT, May 4, 2024

The suspension of consular services for draft-age Ukrainians represents a significant and desperate measure by Kyiv, which finds itself in dire need of soldiers. According to The New York Times, this move aims to pressure these individuals to return and join the fight. "I am not afraid of death. What I fear most is being captured and tortured," says Oleksandr, a Ukrainian residing in Austria. Another individual expressed his reluctance to entrust his life to the current government.
On April 23, Kyiv unexpectedly halted consular services for men aged 18 to 60, impacting their ability to collect a passport, renounce citizenship, or change marital status, among other services. These actions are contingent upon their registration at the military recruitment center, enabling Kyiv to issue draft notices.

Kyiv's push to repatriate its men

The decision has sparked widespread outrage and dramatic incidents at consular locations. "Let Zelenskiy take his own family and fight himself. Everyone has the right to choose whether to fight," exclaimed a woman at the Ukrainian passport office in Warsaw.
The ongoing martial law in Ukraine prohibits men of this age group from leaving the country, yet many have found ways to escape, using bribes or falsified medical certificates.

"We felt as if the ground beneath us vanished," shared Oleksandr, a 42-year-old from Kyiv now in Austria, with the NYT. Like others, he agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, citing fear of repercussions.

Supporters of the mobilization law, enacted after months in the Ukrainian parliament, argue that men outside Ukraine do not adequately support their homeland in its time of need.

Ukrainian officials assert that the mobilization law will introduce "fairness" and streamline the draft process, emphasizing the urgent need for accurate data on those eligible for military service.

The new law deepens divisions

From now on, registering a marriage, obtaining a driver's license, or issuing a passport will require a certificate from a military commission. This has led many, like Oleksandr in Austria, to feel persecuted by their government. "It’s like they are saying, 'go to hell. Now we'll catch and penalize you,'" he commented.

The treatment of Ukrainian prisoners since the war's start, including abuses like beatings, rape, and torture, has shocked the international community.

According to the NYT, the law exacerbates the divide between those fighting and those living abroad. However, Kyiv officials maintain that the mobilization could yield "hundreds of thousands of new soldiers," crucial for countering Russian forces.

"There will be restrictions or forced returns," declared Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefaniszyna, underscoring the complexity of wartime decisions.

Impact on consular services

The exact number of Ukrainians affected by these consular service restrictions remains unclear. Yet, many left Ukraine legally for various reasons, including study and medical treatment.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working to ascertain the total number living overseas, with Eurostat data indicating about 650,000 men targeted by this policy in Europe alone.
Ambassador Vasyl Zvarych in Warsaw highlighted that "tens of thousands" reside in Poland alone. Many view Kyiv's actions as impulsive. "I feel like the country I cherish is acting like an immature teenager," stated Andriy, another Ukrainian living in Poland.
Yet, some understand the government's tough position, like Savelii in London, who sees it as an attempt to restore balance, acknowledging both the privileges of living abroad and the hardships faced by those in Ukraine.

European officials appear divided on urging Ukrainians abroad to return and fight, with some, like Anneli Vicks of Estonia, stating they have no plans for forced repatriation. In contrast, others, like Deputy Minister Andrzej Szejna, refuse to protect draft dodgers.

Trust issues with the "current government"

For individuals like 53-year-old Oleksander in the UK, the situation has not yet caused personal inconvenience but has evoked feelings of offense. Others, like Vladyslav in Spain and Vasily in Germany, express concerns about future restrictions and the divisive effects of the law, fearing it may weaken Ukrainian solidarity.

The measures have sparked emotions, from betrayal to understanding, amid fears of more stringent actions to bolster the army's ranks. As the situation unfolds, the balance between national duty and individual rights continues to provoke debate and concern among Ukrainians worldwide.

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