A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 29, 2024

Many Ukraine Convict Recruits Motivated By Revenge For Families Killed By Russians

For many of the Ukrainian prison convicts volunteering to serve in the army - most charged with petty crimes - the motivation is less commutation of their sentence than a desire to avenge the death of family members killed by the Russians over the past two years. JL

Ben Farmer reports in The Telegraph via Yahoo:

Volunteers told The Telegraph they were driven by patriotism, revenge, or a chance to turn over a new leaf.  Ukrainian prisoners signing up have their remaining sentences cleared and will be given parole if they agree to serve in the army without leave until the end of the war. Thousands have already stepped forward according to the justice ministry, and recruits are already going through training. “I have a big motivation: lots of my family died in Mariupol.

Oleksander says he has volunteered to swap his prison cell for a trench for two reasons.

The softly-spoken 43 year old wants revenge against the Russians who have killed several of his family, but after nearly half his life behind bars, he also wants to change his direction.

His decision has seen him go from serving a prison sentence for robbery in Dnipro, to learning weapons drills in a woodland training camp in central Ukraine.

Within weeks, he and his new comrades will be trained up and on their way to join thousands of convict volunteers on the front line.


Oleksander and other prisoners have joined up under a new Ukrainian law allowing inmates to enlist in the hard-pressed army.

“There’s no pressure at all to join up,” he said, “I just decided to change my life completely.

“I also have a big motivation: lots of my family died in Mariupol,” he said referring to the coastal city devastated during the early weeks of the Russian invasion.

“I like my choice, because now instead of lying on a prison bed, I can get some new skills and change my life.”

Under the government’s new offer to inmates, prisoners signing up have their remaining sentences cleared and will be given parole if they agree to serve in the army without leave until the end of the war.

Thousands have already stepped forward according to the justice ministry, and recruits are already going through training.

The prisoner scheme is one of several new initiatives taken by the government as it tries to overcome troop shortages more than two years into Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s predatory neighbour has a population more than four times the size and Ukraine’s troops are outnumbered and tired.


Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said last month that his army needed more men to boost the forces’ morale.

He said: “We need to staff the reserves... A large number of [brigades] are empty.”

Many Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting for over two years without the possibility of being discharged.

“We need to do this so that the guys have a normal rotation. Then their morale will be improved,” Mr Zelensky said.

Kyiv has recently tightened draft laws to try to mobilise several hundred thousand more soldiers, but that process may take months.

In the meantime, brigades are keen to take convicts.

Denys Maliuska, justice minister, said last month: “There is competition between military commanders to hire [prisoners] since there is a lack of manpower, so they really want to have access to these people.”

In total across the country, nearly 5,000 prisoners are said to have volunteered as part of the scheme. The minister has previously said he expects between 10,000 and 20,000 inmates to sign up in total.

Volunteers told The Telegraph they were driven by different things such as patriotism, revenge, or a chance to turn over a new leaf and end a cycle of crime and punishment.

Oleksander made his choice despite his sentence finishing in three months.

“After three months, I would be free, but I would have to work and hide from the draft officers,” he said.

He admits some fellow inmates thought he was “crazy” for taking the deal.

Some 300 former prisoners will pass through this camp to be trained up for the 59th brigade, which has seen heavy fighting in Kherson, Avdiivka and Krasnohorivka.


Dima, another recruit, says his main motivation is to protect his country.

The 37 year old was serving five years in an open prison for theft and burglary when he took the deal. He only had seven months left to serve and he admits his family think he is an “idiot”.

He says: “I have made many mistakes in my life, I love my country and I have decided to work on my mistakes.

“Also I don’t want the Russians to come here.

“My main goal is not to change my life, my main goal is to protect my country, but of course my life will change. I am looking forward to getting new positive emotions.”

Konstantin, now aged 32, was only 20 when he was first given a prison sentence. His most recent conviction was for stealing a car.

He said: “When I was young, I romanticised crime. Now I am more thinking that if I finish this sentence, I will be 37. If I am 37 and have served so long in prison, what can I do?”

He hopes the army will give him a chance to change his life, as well as to defend his home region of Zaporizhzhia.

He said: “When I made the decision, some of my friends thought I was playing with death. “I let my family know and they were not happy with it. They were worried.

“It was a free choice. We were put under no pressure.”

Ukrainian officials are keen to point out the differences from Russia’s recruitment of convicts to serve in the Wagner mercenary group.

Russian prisoners reported being forced to sign contracts, then being poorly trained and equipped before being thrown into suicidal assaults.

Each of the Ukrainian recruits interviewed by The Telegraph stressed they had volunteered freely, without any pressure.

Nazar, the chief reconnaissance officer for the 59th brigade, who has now switched to training duties, said: “We are not afraid of condemnation from society because compared to Russia, where they force prisoners to fight, these men have come voluntarily.”

Prisoners convicted of certain offences are barred from serving, including the murder of two or more people, manslaughter through drink-driving, sexual crimes, treason and corruption.

Most who sign up have been convicted of thefts, robberies and drug offences. Their applications must be approved by a court.

The prisoners are vetted and assessed in training units and must pass medical checks. After that, they undergo 60 days of training before they can be sent to the front line.

Instructors say the new recruits have been disciplined and they respect the convicts for their decision.

Nazar predicts their new units will also have no problems with them.

He said: “The brigade guys don’t care that much if [the new recruits] were in prison or not. They are normal guys and any one can get into trouble and go to prison. Most of them were in prison for small crimes.”


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