When Pro-Kremlin forces invaded Ukraine in 2014, the resolute “No” was carried not only by those who risked death from missiles launched against them. It was also carried by those who refused to fire them. They didn’t want to die, or kill others. The group of conscientious objectors, who refused to participate in the war, cost Ukraine and Russia a lot of money because they refused to fight.
As a journalist and a military conscientious objector, Ruslan Kotsabawho also holds the presidency of the Ukrainian movement for peace and spent 524 days in prison. But that’s not all he did. He spent the first three years of his sentence in solitary confinement.
In September 2021, he appeared before the court again, charged with high treason and obstruction of hostilities. Because he was acquitted by the court, they did not give up – they were after him for his pacifist remarks in a video that he published in 2015.
In this article, the peace activist stated his opposition to military mobilization in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. He said that he would rather go to prison once more than participate in a civil war.
Ukraine has seen a sharp rise in conscientious objectors to military service. The country reinstated compulsory military service in 2014, just months after Ukraine had been involved in clashes with Russia to its east.
On February 24, Vladimir Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, announced that military service was being made compulsory for all men between the ages of 18 and 60. Now conscientious objectors are at the center of attention as Kyiv seeks to protect those who refuse to serve in their conflict with Russia. Those who refuse could be imprisoned for up to five years.
The Ukrainian recruitment system has created a pool of replacement services, but it has not prevented a single man from serving as long as he claims to have religious motives. According to the latest report from January-November 2020, European Office for Conscientious Objection to Military Service found that 3,361 criminal cases were committed against individuals fleeing military service.
The data shows that 190 deserters were imprisoned, 24 more were sent to disciplinary battalions, and 390 were fined by the courts. In previous years, 20% of requests for alternative services were rejected due to a lack of time.
The Ukrainian army has about 250,000 members aside from their recruits, who are comprised of just 10% of the force.
From Protester to Soldier
War Resisters International is a global peace and anti-militarist network that has over 90 groups in 40 countries. At the end of 2020, the Russian army was now involved in the invasion of Ukraine.
Men in Russia between the age of 18 and 27 must serve in the military for a year without fail. 1 day off per week and no dislikes. Usually, only a third of men are called up, with a third not being able to serve because of health problems and the last third not being called up because there is no need.
Russian government’s stance on conscientious objection to military service is deeply concerning. The rights of people who object to military service in Russia are eroding.
Opposition groups denounced that the government Vladimir Putin uses recruitment as a means to silence its critics, leading to surreal situations: those who protest against the war on the streets of Russia today can be arrested and then sent to compulsory military service and thus end up participating in the war, but they were protesting it.
‘To date, we do not have statistical data on persons for whom military service has been replaced by alternative civilian service. However, according to our estimates, the number of citizens’ right to conscientious objection to military service is declining,’ says the European Bureau in its latest report.
The WRI warns of the refusal of conscripts to offer citizens positions in which they can perform alternative civilian service. In fact, every year government agencies are asking for over 5000 civilians to fill various jobs, but they only get 1000 each year.
As a member of the anti-militarist organization, I had warned of “offensive and arbitrary acts perpetrated by officials of the draft boards,” including unfair denials for jobs in other forms of government work or prohibitions on conscientious objection to military service.
This is a very common problem. Since 2009, the Human Rights Committee has warned about Russia’s policy of penalizing people with replacement services, which are often “too harsh” and almost always require “labor performed outside of a permanent residence in a very low-paying capacity, sometimes even lacking sufficient wages to meet subsistence needs.”