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Prisoners in Ukraine to be granted parole for military service as part of mobilization overhaul

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Some Ukrainian prisoners will be able to apply for early parole and join the army under a new law aimed at boosting Kyiv’s manpower in its fight against the Russian invasion.

The new law will apply only to prisoners who have no more than three years left of their original sentences and it will not cover those who have committed the most serious crimes.

The Ukrainian parliament voted on Wednesday to amend the country’s criminal code to allow the “conditional early release” of prisoners in return for “their direct participation in the defense of the country, protection of its independence and territorial integrity.”

Prisoners who will not be eligible include “those who have committed premeditated murders, rapists and pedophiles, corrupt officials, those who have committed crimes against the foundations of Ukraine’s national security, and those who held particularly responsible positions, including MPs and ministers,” according to a statement by the ruling “Servant of the People” party led by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The move follows a series of advances by Russian forces along the front lines and comes amid a wider initiative by Ukraine to address critical shortages of manpower and ammunition.

Russia has been recruiting prisoners since the early months of the war and has deployed them in some of the fiercest battles yet – leading to accusations the Kremlin sees these troops as mere “cannon fodder.”

Its recruitment of prisoners and their subsequent release back to civilian life has caused a backlash within Russia, as many have been re-arrested after committing fresh offenses.

But Ukrainian officials hope the move will go at least some way towards addressing the imbalance it faces against an enemy whose pool of manpower is at least three times greater.

“It is possible to withstand an all-out war against an enemy with more resources only by consolidating all forces. [This] is about our struggle and preservation of Ukrainian statehood,” said Olena Shuliak, chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Organization of State Power, Local Self-Government, Regional Development and Urban Planning.

Ukraine’s ruling party said the new law passed with a majority of 279 votes out of a total of 330. There were zero votes against it, 11 abstentions and 40 didn’t vote.

The new law requires that convicts join the military of their own free will. Those who leave the military before their contract is up face additional prison terms of between five and 10 years. It is unclear how long prisoners will have to sign up for.

Shuliak said those released on parole to serve would have the status of “military personnel,” and therefore be subject to the same restrictions governing their behaviour.

“This includes, in particular, unauthorized leaving of a military unit or place of service, desertion, evasion of military service by self-harm or other means, unauthorized leaving of the battlefield or refusal to use weapons,” as well as voluntary surrender, she said.

Candidates must first submit an application for parole. They will then undergo a medical examination at the penitentiary institution to determine if they are mentally and physically fit to serve.

A court will then decide on whether to grant the parole. If it agrees, the prisoner will then be transferred to a National Guard unit.

Contracts can be terminated in some circumstances, such as ill health or if the former prisoner commits a new crime. They can also be terminated as part of a wider demobilization.

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