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Will there be a military rotation or not?

By Maryna Balamut

Ukraine has been functioning in a state of full-scale war for almost two years now. It is completely understandable that over this period many issues and problems have accumulated, many challenges and situations have arisen that require legal regulation, amendments to laws to adapt our legal system to the new realities of our life. This applies especially to military legislation (or sector), because with the long-term martial law in the country, the need for some changes and clarifications has become obvious.

So on December 25, 2023, a bill "on amending some legislative acts of Ukraine regarding the improvement of certain issues of mobilisation, military registration and military service" was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada (central Parliament) of Ukraine. The bill caused great excitement among the population. After all, Art. 26(4) states that a serviceman who is serving by conscription during mobilisation can rotate out from service, if the servicemen expresses a desire not to continue military service after 36 months of service. It also provides for the possibility of retirement of conscripts after 210 days after the adoption of the law. Any rotation out of service will last for six months, after which the serviceman will be required to fight once more.

In other words, this means that an ordinary soldier who was drafted at the beginning of the war will be able to leave the service in the spring of 2025. The idea seemed good; why not give the guys who have been defending our country for three years a rest. Most of them are exhausted by service, loss of friends, and separation from loved ones. But the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, was very careful in this matter. He said that rotation is possible, but only under certain conditions; for example, if there are no exacerbations on the front (this concept is left undefined) and if there is someone to replace the soldier. Of course, one can understand him, because there are about one million people currently "under arms".

Of course, there is the officer corps, plus people serving under contract, related services and various power structures, which this law will not affect, and of course there will be people who voluntarily want to continue service; but even under the most optimistic calculations, Zaluzhny needs to prepare about 450 thousand people for rotation. And this is not the only problem, which is that experienced people will leave the service, in whom the state invested time and money, because every soldier underwent training, preparation and received material support. All this must be reinvested in new recruits once more. And this is only the financial side of the problem, because the human resources are also needed. The question arises: does the state have the opportunity for all these operations, given that the recruitment process into the army is already ongoing. Because we are suffering losses on the battlefield, new units are being formed, old ones are expanding.

Zaluzhny also announced the need to form a reserve, which will provide powerful reinforcements in the event of an escalation of the situation on the front, or the opening of a new front. To be honest, I'm surprised that in the two years of full-scale war, this reserve still does not exist. So where do we find them? The law reviewed and reduced the grounds for exemption or deferment from conscription, primarily related to people who acquire a second, third, etc. higher education of the same degree, the number of which increased sharply after the beginning of the war. If disabled persons are dependent on the serviceman, he will receive a deferment only if there is legally no one else to take care of them.

The conscription age has not yet been revised, but it is quite possible that it will be lowered by a year, and persons from 26 years old, or even 25 years old, will be conscripted. I remind you that currently conscription starts from 27 years old. They also plan to remove the concept of "partially fit for service", according to the words of Mr Zaluzhny himself, there are too many speculations around this concept. As for women, they are also subject to military registration (the registration procedure is determined by the Ministry of Defense, whatever that might mean). I hope additional clarifications will be provided). During martial law, they can be involved in military service, while they can join the combat positions by volunteering. It is also envisaged new rules for how conscription takes place; for this it is anticipated to use registered letters and e-mail.

The bill also plans to strengthen penalties for evaders. This should apply not only to persons living in Ukraine, but also to citizens who are fit for military service of Ukraine who are abroad. Of course, this requires a clear and high-quality register of all military servicemen in Ukraine. This was also promised to appear soon. Again, it is strange that in a country that has actually been at war since 2014, it still does not exist. But will all these measures be enough? How much will all these operations require? Given the current situation, will it be reasonable to release sergeants and soldiers with real combat experience who are able to carry out combat missions? Will this not be a fatal decision for both the country's defence system and the entire state? I think not only I am asking these questions.

So on 30 January 2024, a new version of this law emerged, already with amendments, and in Article 26(4), two clarifications appear: first, that a serviceman who has 36 months of continuous service in the army has the right to be retired by rotation, but only at times determined by the Supreme Commands rather than purely on his own volition. It is not clear when this can take place. Secondly, the serviceman must submit a written request and receive a response within a month.

On the other hand, I understand every mother, wife, daughter,  and sister who has relatives in the army. When I was last in Ukraine, I had a conversation with a woman who said "Yes, my heart aches when I go out to play with my child in the playground. Because I see how other dads play with their children and live a relatively normal life, and my child hasn't seen her dad for two years." And she has a point, and I understand her 100 percent. It is also unnecessary to write off the motivational aspect for servicemen who are currently assigned to perform service tasks, because serving until the end of martial law (while it is understandable that no one knows how long it will last) and serving three years are completely different things. I think the adoption of this law would really help motivate and raise the morale of soldiers.

So the questions of rotation and conscription are very important. An issue that concerns every family in Ukraine, because almost every family has someone serving, a father or son or brother. This is a law that everyone is waiting for. Will it be possible to provide rest for people who have been fighting for two years? If so, what conditions? How will this affect the country’s defence capability? Will the state be able to provide sufficient reserves for this? There are more questions than answers. But I emphasise that now we only have a bill for discussion, which of course can still be changed and edited. So it is not yet clear in what version it will be adopted. They are now considering an option to replace demobilisation with “two years of service in the rear” (i.e. a position other than combat deployment). But what does “in the rear” really mean? Will the soldier have the opportunity after three years at the forefront to serve two years in the rear in his hometown or region in order to be able to see his family?

Another important question is whether the law will actually take effect? Or will there be so many loopholes in it (like the point that demobilisation is possible only with sufficient available personnel), that it will simply remain a law on paper? Unfortunately, as sad as it is, there is just the sort of thing that can happen in Ukraine.

Well, “honourable”, elected deputies, the whole country is waiting for answers from you.


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