Russia is forcibly ‘mobilizing’ Ukrainians from occupied territory to fight its war against Ukraine
Russia has reportedly begun forced ‘mobilization’ in those parts of the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts which have fallen under its control since its fully-fledged invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. It was already known that the invaders have forcibly taken medical staff from Mariupol, leaving virtually no doctors for the city under siege. Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] reported on 23 April that such ‘mobilization’ of medical workers was being applied in other areas under Russian occupation. In Vovchansk (Kharkiv oblast), junior medical personnel have been forcibly sent to the frontline to provide primary medical aid to wounded Russian soldiers. They have been told they will be shot if they refuse.
The report also states that measures are underway to forcibly mobilize young people from occupied territory of the Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The Russians have made it virtually impossible to leave the Kherson oblast for territory under Ukrainian control, and have even severely restricted people from leaving for the Russian Federation. In occupied parts of the Zaporizhzhia oblast, the Russian military, together with Russia’s FSB [security service] are searching for men of mobilization age. For obviously reasons, HUR does not name its sources, but states that it is specifically such forcibly mobilized Ukrainians who are supposed to supplement Russian units “in the most problematical areas”. Such measures are being carried out, they note, despite the pro-Ukrainian sentiments of the population in such occupied cities and the general motivation to resist the Russian invaders.
On 20 April, HUR suggested that Moscow is actually planning pseudo ‘referendums’ on occupied territory in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts in order to declare forced ‘mobilization’. After carrying out these ‘referendums at gunpoint’, the Russian FSB will send such supposedly ‘mobilized’ Ukrainians to the places where the fiercest fighting is taking place. The idea is thus to storm the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ positions and “effectively to destroy Ukraine through the hands of Ukrainians themselves.”
There has been talk of such fake referendums as pretext for declaring yet more Russian proxy ‘people’s republics’ since Russia began its full invasion and a recent stunt in the Rozivka Territorial Hromada in the Zaporizhzhia oblast has made it clear what kind of methods Russia will resort to. As reported, the Hromada residents, most of whom are elderly, as well as some who had fled Mariupol, were tricked into gathering at the local house of culture for a meeting supposedly about payment of pensions and establishing social needs. Instead, they were read out a so-called ‘memorandum’ on holding ‘elections for a new mayor’ and also appealing to ‘DPR’ to join them while Zaporizhzhia remains under Ukrainian control. The ‘meeting’ where residents supposed “voted to join the Donetsk people’s republic’ was then widely posted on social media and on Russian television.
Both HUR and the local administrations have warned Ukrainians in the areas concerned to beware of attempts to obtain their personal data through deceit so that it can later to used to fake such votes.
It should also be remembered, that just like in occupied parts of Donbas in 2014, the Russians have done everything, from abductions and threats against local media to destroying television towers to cut occupied territory off from Ukrainian media and replace it with their own propaganda channels (either Russian or those from the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’).
It can seem obvious that nobody would take such referendum stunts seriously, especially when Ukrainians in Kherson, Berdyansk, Melitopol, Prymorsk and other temporarily occupied cities have continued protesting even in the face of Russian tanks and Russian soldiers with machine guns. The same was true, however, in early 2014, and it did not take very many months before western media reverted to repeating Russian lies about analogous stunts, often adding only that “Kyiv” had a divergent position.
Russia has also been illegally conscripting Ukrainians from occupied Crimea since 2015 and, in recently months has, via its puppet ‘Donetsk and Luhansk republics’ forcibly mobilized huge numbers of men without any experience to fight Russia’s war against Ukraine. To a very large extent, such men have been used as cannon fodder, with huge numbers killed almost immediately.
In early March, Ukrainian human rights groups, together with the President’s Representative Office on Crimea circulated guidelines, in Ukrainian; Russian and Crimean Tatar, explaining to young Ukrainian citizens how to try to avoid being forcibly mobilized and what to do if this proves impossible.
Russia’s use of mobilization on any occupied territory is in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 51 of this states, quite unequivocally, that “the Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. No pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted”.
Russia is not just compelling protected persons to serve in its army, it is forcing Ukrainians to fight against their other compatriots. The above-mentioned guidelines stipulate that all residents of occupied territories are Ukrainian citizens, even if they have been forced to take Russian citizenship. They stress that any person forcibly mobilized into the Russian Federation armed forces or illegal armed bodies, linked with them, would be viewed by Ukraine as a victim of Russia’s war crime. They should do everything in their power to sabotage such ‘service’. If that does not work, and they were mobilized against their will, they should “as soon as you get onto territory under Ukrainian control or at your first meeting with Ukraine’s Armed Forces, surrender and inform them that you are a Ukrainian citizen from occupied Crimea, Donetsk or Luhansk oblasts (even if you don’t have documents confirming this, we will establish this). Then you will remain only a victim of a war crime in Ukraine, and you will, with time, be able to safely return home alive.”