Ukraine's push for repatriation sparks legal debate

The topic of the return of Ukrainian men to their homeland was raised during President Volodymyr Zelenskyi's stay in Davos
The topic of the return of Ukrainian men to their homeland was raised during President Volodymyr Zelenskyi's stay in Davos

Ukraine seeks to bring back its citizens who crossed borders during the invasion, but the feasibility of this initiative is questioned. Ukrainian officials advocate for the return of those who left illegally, prompting scrutiny on the legal aspects and the readiness of host countries. Journalist Anton Pshenychnyi investigates in a video report for NV.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, approximately 6 million Ukrainians are registered under temporary protection in the European Union. Of these, 18%, or one million, are adult men. The issue of their return was even raised in Davos during discussions with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Read also: Germany extends protection to Ukrainian refugees through March 2025

“It’s not a complex issue; it’s a matter of justice,” said the president.

“It’s not a question for women, non-mobilization-age people — men, children; they are free. It’s a matter of law and justice. If you’re of mobilization age, according to Ukrainian law, you should be in Ukraine – and that’s a fact. And then you can choose whether to fight or not, but you must work,”

He also emphasized that the return of desired individuals could support the Ukrainian economy and, importantly, contribute to military payments. Zelenskyy calculated that the salary of one soldier equals the taxes of 6-8 Ukrainians.

Read also: Defense Minister Umerov announces plans to draft Ukrainians living abroad

“Support from Western partners doesn’t go to soldiers’ salaries,” emphasized Zelensky.

“It’s crucial to understand that.”

Western media has actively picked up on the topic.

Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov responded to Eastern European journalists’ questions about the return of conscripted refugees. He mentioned that Ukraine would like to do it, but forcibly, it’s not possible due to the laws of the countries where Ukrainians reside.

Read also: Bill on mobilization of Ukrainians abroad to be ready in January

What do Europeans say about this? Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky stated that such mechanisms are absent in the country and would violate international law and obligations.

Estonia would not expel draft dodgers either, according to Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets. However, if Ukraine officially addresses Estonia on this matter, they will have to find a solution. Although international agreements prevent this, separate intergovernmental documents could be signed.

German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann expressed strong opposition, stating that he cannot imagine forcing people from other countries to serve with weapons, considering that, according to the German Constitution, citizens are not obliged to do so against their will.

Austrians share a similar stance. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that no Ukrainian conscript living in Austria would be forcibly sent back to their homeland.

It’s worth noting that arguments against the forced return of conscripts extend beyond the absence of legislation and similar practices. For example, in Estonia and Germany, it is considered a valuable human resource.

Germans actively work to integrate more Ukrainians into German society, regardless of whether they are women with children or able-bodied men of mobilization age.

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