Young Ukrainian men trying to leave occupied areas are being turned away by Russian soldiers amid growing fears they could be conscripted into the Russian army, it has been reported.
At the only crossing point between the occupied areas and the rest of Ukraine, Russian soldiers told dozens of men between the ages of 18 and 35 that it was forbidden to let them go, according to older men who managed to cross, as well as two NGOs involved. to help people evacuate and local Telegram groups.
Ukrainian authorities believe that Russia will try to mobilize young men in recently occupied areas to fight against Ukraine – as it has done in parts of eastern Ukraine under Russian control since 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told Ukrainians in the occupied territories to hide from mobilization by ‘all means’, adding that if they are conscripted by force, they should sabotage Russia’s military operations from within and “at the first opportunity, switch to [Ukrainian] posts”.
Oleksandr, a 37-year-old resident of Kherson, said he managed to leave the city last week, but saw two cars of people turned away because they had men who matched the category of age of 18-35 years old. One was a 35-year-old man who was with his wife and two children, he said.
“Among the young people I know [in Kherson], they were all sitting at home last week with the doors locked,” Oleksandr said. “They try not to go out anywhere. The fear is very real. »
The occupation authorities have not yet announced mobilization in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson and other areas occupied since the invasion. But the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said on Saturday that men from the occupied territories who accepted Russian passports received conscription notices.
In a move widely seen as an escalation, Russia announced the mobilization of 300,000 troops last week after Russian troops were forced to withdraw from the Kharkiv region. This decision provoked protests throughout Russia. Russian conscripts who refuse to fight will face prison terms.
Occupation authorities in Ukraine are holding so-called referendums on joining Russia – after which, according to senior Russian figures, Moscow will view any attack by Ukraine in these areas as a direct attack on Russia . According to Russian state media, Moscow plans to announce the annexation of the occupied territories on September 30.
NGOs involved in the evacuation of people from the occupied territories said young men turned to them after being stopped at the crossing point in Vasylivka, a town in the Zaporizhzhia region. The checkpoint is the only place where civilians can cross the 800-mile long line of contact to leave Russian-occupied areas.
The number of applications from young men seeking to leave has increased by 50% over the past week, according to Dina Urich, the evacuation coordinator for the NGO Helping to Leave. But unfortunately, Urich said, it is not possible to help men who fall under the age bracket of 18-35 due to the alleged ban.
In a Telegram chat, where people trying to cross the checkpoint share information, a woman said her group included men between the ages of 18 and 35, but they managed to get through. “There was a kind of [order] about letting the men out, but the women begged and cried and fussed,” she wrote. Another woman who was traveling with a 21-year-old man in her party said he was released because he had a health exemption.
However, reports in other Telegram chats were negative, with one man writing: “I called three [drivers] and they all said they wouldn’t let 18-35 year olds out. “It’s a lie they let anyone out…we tried yesterday,” another woman wrote.
The results of an investigation into who managed to pass the checkpoint will be published on Monday evening, according to the administrator of the Telegram group. One man, posted by the nickname Konstantin, pleaded with his 8,000 other members of the group to stay calm until the facts are known.
“I myself sit on [my] suitcases, wanting [ask] every hour what happens [at the checkpoint] and if they let people through or if we have to wait,” he wrote.
Ukrainian officials have described the potential mobilization of men in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions as an act of genocide.
Helping to Leave and Kherson Evacuations, another NGO helping people get out, also said buses, including those not carrying men, had been turned away at Russian checkpoints since Thursday. But those who had their own car were able to enter Ukraine.
“For the buses, they ask for this special Russian license and send them back but no one knows how to get the said license,” said the head of Kherson Evacuations, who asked not to be named because his team and relatives live in occupied Kherson. . .
“We already see that in the occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk almost the entire male population has been mobilized, we expect them to announce the mobilization in [Kherson and Zaporizhzhia] regions once they “annex” them, Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief, said in an interview.
“So thousands more Ukrainians will die, Ukrainian citizens. It’s simple genocide – these people have no training and no equipment; they are simply sent to die.
Crimean Tatar rights organizations say members of the minority Muslim ethnic group have received the overwhelming majority of conscription notices in Russia- annexed Crimea.
Zelenskiy, commenting on the conscription of Crimean Tatars as well as ethnic minority Russians in occupied parts of Ukraine, called the move “criminal” and “another element of Russia’s genocidal policy.”
Videos have emerged of protests against the mobilization in Dagestan and Yakutia, republics in southern Russia and Siberia. A group of women protesting in Dagestan told a policeman: “We are not blind… it was Russia that attacked Ukraine.”