The Ukrainian military has announced plans to introduce a permit system that would ban conscripts from leaving the region where they are registered.
The move, based on a 1992 law, was meant to allow the country’s armed forces to more easily track down potential conscripts, but it prompted an immediate backlash.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized the announcement in his nightly televised address to the nation on Tuesday, saying the General Staff should not make any decisions without him. Two lawmakers promptly tabled a bill that would scrap the army’s initiative, which they described as “obsolete.”
It remains unclear whether movement permits for men will be introduced, but the army’s announcement underscores the vulnerability of Ukrainian men, who could be drafted into combat at any time.
Since Zelenskyy declared martial law at the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been eligible for military service and are not allowed to leave the country. There are a few exceptions such as men in poor health or fathers of three or more children.
“I don’t want to fight. I want to keep working,” said Roman, a 31-year-old software developer from Kyiv. “But I also don’t want to think about it negatively because a lot of my friends have been mobilized and it’s not fair to them. I try not to think that being 100% mobilized means I’m going to die or get hurt or see fights.”
When martial law was first announced, Ukrainian authorities said conscription would come in waves, starting with those who already had military experience and reflecting the needs of the army, with an emphasis, for example, on medics or people with scientific backgrounds . Women can also be mobilized when their work experience is needed but they cannot be coerced and are not expected to fight.
Thousands of Ukrainians have volunteered to fight or as reservists. By March 6, about 100,000 had enlisted in the Territorial Defense Force alone. But there are also those who fear being sent to the front lines, where appalling artillery combat is raging and between 100 and 200 Ukrainian soldiers are reportedly dying every day.
For some men, the prospect of conscription — and the uncertainty of not knowing when the call might come — is depressing.
“The worst part is I don’t know how [mobilisation] happening right now,” Roman said. “Will the draft notice come to my house or will someone just stop me on the street? Should I re-let my apartment? Should I buy [military equipment] or not?”
Last month, a group of men were arrested by police at the Otel, a well-known Kiev nightclub, for allegedly violating the curfew and subsequently received drafts from the local military administration office.
Among them were Maks Yudin, Otel’s installation artist and technician, and Pavlo Derhachov, Otel’s owner. Yudin described how they had held a daytime event – allowed under the curfew – and were in the process of dismantling the set. He said he went at 11pm to open the back door to find a crowd of police officers waiting outside.
“There were about five police officers for every person,” said Yudin, who is originally from Russia but moved to Ukraine in 2019. “The police have long demonized this club, although we have been a base for volunteering since the beginning of the war.”
Yudin himself volunteered as an army medic early in the war, but was rejected because of his Russian citizenship, despite his medical degree and previous military experience.
The Otel still serves as a temporary base for the distribution of relief supplies. Behind the bar are shelves of goods with goods for various towns near the front lines, as well as some gear for a battalion they are supporting. On the other side of the dance floor is a crate of Molotov cocktails.
Police said 219 people found at the club received drafts, but Yudin and Derhachov say there were only about 10 to 15 people there.
“The type of draft notice they gave us is a bit like spam mail,” Derhachov said. “They are designed to encourage people to sign up for the fight but there is no system for tracking. Luckily, there are a lot of those people who want to react and fight, and that’s a great thing.”
A second type of draft notice is mailed to a person’s home and explains why the Army needs it.
“Since the war started, I’ve experienced a kind of survivor’s guilt syndrome because people are dying and I don’t feel well,” Derhachov said. “I’m actually glad they closed the borders [for men] because it forces you to face what is happening, even if it is in a passive form. In one way or another you have to participate.”
Derhachov said they still host occasional daytime events, but not the “hedonistic techno raves” that Kyiv was known for before the war. “Each event raised money for the war – the army, a specific battalion or humanitarian aid,” he said.
“We are not in the phase of total mobilization like in World War II,” said Oleksandr Shulga, a former sociology academic at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences who committed to combat on the first day of the war. “There are many people who are ready and preparing to be mobilized. I worry that after the war there will be a social divide between those who fought and those who didn’t.”