Updated May 18th, 2024 at 16:26 IST

Ukraine's Mobilisation Law Comes Into Effect Days After Russia Launches Kharkiv Offensive

Among other things, the new mobilisation law allows prisoners to join the army and increases the fine for dodging the draft five-fold.

Russian President Putin claims the new Kharkiv offensive is aimed at creating a buffer zone rather than capturing the Ukrainian city. | Image:AP
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Kyiv: A divisive mobilisation law in Ukraine came into force on Saturday, as Kyiv struggles to boost troop numbers after Russia launched a new offensive that some fear could close in on Ukraine’s second-largest city. The legislation, which was watered down from its original draft, will make it easier to identify every conscript in the country.

It also provides incentives to soldiers, such as cash bonuses or money toward buying a house or car, that some analysts say Ukraine cannot afford.

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Lawmakers dragged their feet for months and only passed the law in mid-April, a week after Ukraine lowered the age for men who can be drafted from 27 to 25,

The measures reflect the growing strain that more than two years of war with Russia has had on Ukraine’s forces, who are trying to hold the front lines in fighting that has sapped the country’s ranks and stores of weapons and ammunition.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also signed two other laws Friday, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing fines for draft dodgers fivefold. Russia enlisted its prisoners early on in the war, and personnel shortages compelled Ukraine to adopt the new measures.

Russian troops, meanwhile, are pushing ahead with a ground offensive that opened a new front in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region and put further pressure on Kyiv’s overstretched military.

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After weeks of probing, Moscow launched the new push knowing that Ukraine suffered personnel shortages, and that its forces have been spread thin in the northeast.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a visit to China that the Russian push aims to create “a buffer zone” rather than capturing Kharkiv, the local capital and Ukraine’s second-largest city.

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Still, Moscow’s forces have pummeled Kharkiv with strikes in recent weeks, hitting civilian and energy infrastructure and prompting angry accusations from Zelenskyy that the Russian leadership sought to reduce the city to rubble.

On Friday, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said that Russian guided bombs killed at least three residents and injured 28 others that day.

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Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, but thousands have died or suffered injuries in the more than 27 months of fighting.

The US last week announced a new $400 million package of military aid for Ukraine, and President Joe Biden has promised that he would rush badly needed weaponry to the country to help it stave off Russian advances.

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Still, only small batches of US military aid have started to trickle into the front line, according to Ukrainian military commanders, who said it will take at least two months before supplies meet Kyiv’s needs to hold the line.

Thousands of Ukrainians have fled the country to avoid the draft since Russia’s all-out invasion in February 2022, some risking their lives as they tried to swim across a river separating Ukraine from neighbouring Romania and Hungary.

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Late on Friday, Ukraine’s border service said that at least 30 people have died trying to cross the Tisza River since the full-scale invasion.

Romanian border guards days earlier retrieved the near-naked, disfigured body of a man that appeared to have been floating in the Tisza for days, and is the 30th known casualty, the Ukrainian agency said in an online statement. It said the man has not yet been identified.

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Published May 18th, 2024 at 16:26 IST