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Russia and Ukraine trade fire as Zelensky signs new conscription law

RUSSIA and Ukraine exchanged heavy drone fire at the weekend as a new Ukrainian conscription law came into force.

The law, which took effect on Saturday, requires all men between 18 and 60 to carry documents at all times confirming they have registered with military authorities, with the aim of making it much harder to avoid conscription.

It follows fivefold increases in the fines for draft-dodging (to a maximum 204,000 hryvnia (just over £4,000 in a country where the average annual wage is about £5,500) and a decree allowing the army to recruit convicted prisoners, both signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday. 

Both measures echo moves already made by Russia, which raised draft-dodging fines last year and has long recruited prisoners. Last month Ukraine also lowered the minimum age at which people can be conscripted (to 25), while Russia has raised the maximum age (to 30).

Mr Zelensky said in December Ukraine needs to recruit an extra 500,000 troops to maintain its war effort. Russia has twice increased the size of its army since invading its neighbour in 2022, reaching over 1.3 million active personnel by the end of last year. 

Ukrainian commanders in the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops have been advancing for the last week, say they are outnumbered seven to one on the front line. 

While many Ukrainian employers have protested they cannot replace workers who get called up, army officers say morale is affected by the inability to demobilise soldiers who have served years on the front line. A clause in the law saying conscripts would be demobilised after 36 months was scrapped under pressure from top brass.

But an estimated 650,000 Ukrainian men have fled the country to avoid fighting. On Friday Ukraine’s border force said it had picked up the corpse of one who drowned trying to swim the Tisza river demarcating the border with Hungary and Romania, and that this was the 30th such fatality.

Russia said it shot down about 60 drones and missiles overnight on Saturday, both over recognised Russian territory (Krasnodar and Belgorod) and annexed land (Crimea and Kherson). Ukraine said it had shot down about 30 Russian drones in the same night.
 

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