As Ukraine signs up troops, questions arise about how it chooses.

Kharkiv, Ukraine — At a subway station, a recruitment officer named Oleksandr, one of dozens stationed around Kharkiv, recently picked young men out of a crowd, checked documents and Determined whether they are eligible for military service or not.

A nationwide campaign to recruit, register and draft men is underway in Ukraine – an expected response to the war-torn country. The campaign involved taking to the streets to find potential soldiers and issuing summons ordering them to report to recruiting offices.

But the effort, particularly street recruitment, has drawn accusations that it is secretive and arbitrary, that it violates the government’s own laws and that it sometimes drafts unwanted people with the denial of consent. . It has also given rise to a cat-and-mouse game between the recruits and the men trying to escape them.

Recruiters like Oleksandr, who did not give his full name because he was not authorized to speak to the media, say they only issue summonses to register those who want to fight. “We ask them, do they have military training and do they want to serve in combat?” They said.

But some of the recipients say they were never given the go-ahead, while there are reports that men willing to fight have been turned away for what appear to be bureaucratic reasons.

Oh The petition has more than 25,000 signatures. Ukrainians call on President Volodymyr Zelensky to limit the need to respond, ban summonses to checkpoints, gas stations and other public places. It calls for establishing a transparent process for when people can be called.

“There are many people who are motivated, who have war experience, but they cannot join the service, because in many places they recruit people on the streets who are just like them,” the petition read. has no experience,” the petition read.

Dennis, 29, said he was recently sent a summons saying he was not wanted outside a Kharkiv supermarket. But at the recruiting office, “I lied and said I had no military training,” he recalled — a lie that might not be caught because his records are in a different part of Ukraine. Dennis, who did not want his last name published for fear of retribution, added, “I know guys who don’t even leave their apartments because they’re afraid of getting a summons, but I know a lot of guys like that.” I also know those who want to fight.”

Ukraine has long had conscription, and young men are required to perform military service unless they fall into an exempt category, such as attending university, being disabled or having at least three children. After the war began, all non-exempt men between the ages of 18 and 60 were required to register at their local recruiting offices and undergo a medical examination for potential service, but enforcement and record keeping have been haphazard.

Government officials say so far only those with military experience or skills specifically needed have been drafted, but others are likely to be drafted as the war continues. Critics say the recruitment process has not been as selective as officials make it out to be, and that with the military in charge of recruitment, registration and drafting, with little transparency about the standards applied at each step, the process is kept confidential.

“This process of sending summons fully complies with the law,” said Yevnia Ryabika, a former legal adviser to the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “This is a general effort to register citizens who are obligated to defend their country.”

Each local recruitment center is given a target for the number of people to register, but the figures are “completely confidential”, he said.

Andrei Novak, a lawyer who represents people trying to get pardons from the service, drew a distinction between the summons sent by the conscription office because its records show a person must register. And recruited by a recruiter who stopped someone on the street. He said his firm, Miller Associates, considers the latter illegal.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city by population, a Channel on the messaging app Telegram Provides anonymous, crowdsourced, real-time information on recruiters’ locations for those trying to avoid them. It has more than 67,000 users.

“Our goal is to prevent inappropriate issuance of summons,” reads the channel’s description. It invites residents to submit locations and photos of police officers and recruits.

One post featured a photo of recruiters taken from inside a parked car in front of the store. The caption read, “These are our old friends.”

Another Telegram channel for the Lviv region in western Ukraine reads: “It’s important to get all relevant information. Only by knowing your rights can you protect yourself and your family!” the channel lists. The five places where most summonses are issued and the diseases that prevent men from serving. It also explains how to refuse a summons.

Ukrainians have shown extraordinary solidarity, with hundreds of thousands volunteering for the regular army, regional defense forces — similar to the National Guard, with some units deployed in combat — or to work in civil defense activities. Took But the numbers are not enough to match the Russians’ battlefield strength – or to keep up with casualties, which officials have said have been 100 killed and nearly 400 wounded a day this spring.

There are also signs, after five months of war, that a sense of unity is fraying at the edges. Soldiers, including the least prepared raw recruits, served long, hard services, while others managed to get away with it.

Volodymyr Marchenko, 48, a farmer, has served five months in a regional defense battalion, often at or near the front, without being discharged from his unit. He knew how to shoot a hunting rifle and enlisted as soon as the attack began.

Sent to fight in street clothes and ordinary shoes, he got frostbite on his toes.

“There is no one to replace us,” he said. “There are very few people. It’s psychologically very difficult for guys.”

There is also frustration with a system that turns away some willing to fight, while willingly and incapacitating others.

“There are a lot of boys who have a lot of motivation and ability, who want to join the army now, but they are not taking them,” said a senior soldier of the Territorial Defense Unit, who asked not to be named. requested them to speak openly.

The lack of public transparency about the recruitment system, a major complaint of its critics, makes it difficult to explain how and why people are recruited. For the most part, though, bureaucratic or logistical factors – such as a lack of available slots for officers or soldiers in units – seem to be behind why those with certain relevant skills or experience are not accepted for service. Is.

On the other hand, some commanders and senior soldiers say that calling up men who are not ready to serve is demoralizing those who volunteer.

A senior sergeant of the 47th Armed Forces Battalion reacted strongly to this. Facebook post this month.

“I am proud of my military service and am outraged that my profession is being reduced to the level of punishment for these scoundrels,” wrote Sergeant Valerie Marks. “It’s humiliating.”

He wrote that soldiers and officers who sacrificed their lives were frustrated by a chaotic recruitment process that attracted draftees with poor qualifications or little inclination to serve. Sergeant Marks said he had personally encountered situations where drafts’ drinking or other problems put the lives of other soldiers at risk.

“It is impossible to get rid of them, or use force – they will sue,” he wrote.

Sergeant Marks, identified as part of the leadership of the 47th Battalion in the Ukrainian defense industry, did not respond to messages.

In Kharkiv, just 25 miles from the Russian border, recruiting officer Oleksandr said he was looking for unregistered men with military training. If they say they are not interested, he lets them go, he said.

Something, he recalled, shouted at him. “They say: ‘I don’t want to serve! Ukraine isn’t even a real country!'” He cited mental health problems from repeated shelling.

Oleksandr said that after Russian airstrikes leveled the Kharkiv recruiting office early in the war, military recruiters there no longer had records of who had registered and had to rebuild their databases. was needed.

Mr. Zielinski has said he wants to put a million men into the field in the military effort. The number is estimated to be around 700,000, including regional defense fighters, some of whom have been deployed for combat.

Millions of Ukrainians displaced from war-torn eastern and southern regions are living in western Ukraine near the Polish border, including many men of military age who have not signed up.

Last month, the military chief of staff caused an uproar by issuing directives requiring men of military age to register when moving between provinces. After criticism from Mr Zielinski that the military could not make such a move unilaterally, he clarified that he was only asking civilians to inform the authorities if they were going to another area.

“Dear Citizen,” read the note. “I remind you, the war is on. Your country needs you!