The BBC has found that nearly 20,000 men have fled Ukraine since the start of the full-scale war to avoid being drafted into the country's army. Ukraine's State Border Guard Service (SBGS) is unaware of such figures, adding that attempted illegal border crossings fell in 2023.
Source: BBC; Colonel Andrii Demchenko, spokesperson for SBGS, in a comment to Ukrainska Pravda
Details: The BBC says it established this number by requesting data on illegal border crossings from Ukraine's neighbours Romania, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
The data indicate that 19,740 men illegally crossed these countries' borders between February 2022 and 31 August 2023.
The BBC said another 21,113 men sought to escape but were detained by the Ukrainian authorities (Ukraine's SBGS noted that this figure is smaller: 16,700 people during martial law; see below for a comment – ed.)
The bulk of them – 14,313 – attempted to cross the border on foot or via water, with the remaining 6,800 relying on fraudulently obtained official documents that claimed false exemptions from the draft, such as fabricated illnesses.
Fedir Venislavskyi, the Ukrainian president's representative in the parliament, told the BBC that the problem was acute.
"The government realises that this phenomenon is not isolated and that it is widespread. But unfortunately, I would emphasise that corruption is very resilient," the official stated, adding that Ukraine was doing "everything possible to keep the number of corruption cases to a minimum".
A Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's representative said the number of men who left or attempted to leave has no bearing on the military effort.
"I am convinced that the resilience and readiness of Ukrainians to defend their independence, sovereignty and freedom is 95-99%," Venislavskyi noted in a comment to BBC.
When asked to comment on the figures presented in the BBC story, Andrii Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's SBGS, said he had no records from neighbouring countries and was unaware of the circumstances under which certain people could have been detained for violating border or migration laws.
Demchenko stated that it bears mentioning that the data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex indicates that the figures for the detention of Ukrainian citizens on the EU's eastern borders are much lower (even if they do not include data from Moldovan border guards).
Therefore, Frontex data reveals that 8,512 Ukrainian citizens were detained for illegally crossing the EU's eastern borders between March 2022 and August 2023. These included:
5,035 individuals in March-December 2022;
3,477 individuals were detained in January-August 2023.
At the same time, the colonel stressed that the Ukrainian authorities are taking all possible measures to prevent illegal border crossings and, moreover, are making joint efforts with border guards of neighbouring countries to ensure reliable protection of the state border, such as joint patrols, the exchange of information on attempted violations, etc.
Ukrainian border guards have detained 16,700 male Ukrainian citizens who have attempted to illegally cross the border through the green line (forests, mountains, rivers, etc.) or by other illegal means (hiding in vehicles or trying to avoid border control) since the beginning of martial law. Over 7,000 more people were caught trying to illegally cross the border at checkpoints, including by using forged documents.
At the same time, Demchenko stressed that there were fewer attempts to violate the state border compared to 2022.
Furthermore, Ukrainian border guards refused to allow almost 43,000 Ukrainian citizens to leave the country at checkpoints in the first 10 months of 2023, most of whom were men who did not fall under the conditions for leaving the country during martial law.
This is 17% more than in the same period last year.
The SBGS spokesperson said border guards most often record attempts to illegally cross the green line on the border with Romania and Moldova, with the largest number of forgeries observed on the border with Poland.
Nearly 300 criminal groups engaged in the illegal trafficking of persons across the border have been exposed during martial law.
In addition, individuals attempted to bribe SBGS inspectors over 800 times in order to obtain a decision to allow them to cross the border. The total amount of bribes in question amounted to UAH 8 million [roughly US$221,500]. The persons involved were handed over to the relevant law enforcement agencies.
For reference: The Frontex agency protects the EU's external borders and is responsible for coordinating the activities of national border guard services.