Official Statistics: More Than 33,000 Ukrainian Soldiers Have Abandoned the UAF since 2014

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


In four and a half years more than 33,000 military personnel of the UAF have self-willingly left their units or deserted. This was reported by certain military-diplomatic sources of “Izvestia” with reference to the report of the chief military prosecutor of Ukraine Anatoly Matios on the condition of law and order and military discipline in the Armed Forces of the country. Excerpts from the document are at the disposal of “Izvestia”. The Verkhovna Rada notes that the moral condition of the Ukrainian army causes big fears.

The runaway army

Since the beginning of 2014 up to September 2018 33,798 servicemen of the Ukrainian army ran away, said one of the interlocutors of “Izvestia” familiar with the contents of the report.

“This number includes both those who self-willingly left their units and those who deserted. The chief military prosecutor doesn’t specify the proportion of those and others. Very few are caught – since the beginning of this year up to September only 1587 fugitives were detained,” he noted.

The total number of UAF troops in Ukraine totals about 200,000 people.

The number of those who ran away can’t but cause alarm, said a source. After all, many of them have a weapon in their hands.

“About 15,000 units of weapons stolen from the Ukrainian Armed Forces are wanted,” added a military-diplomatic source.

Earlier the chief military prosecutor of Ukraine Anatoly Matios also stated that in four years the UAF has lost more than 15,000 units of firearms: 7,600 automatic machine guns; nearly 3,000 pistols; 2,200 machine guns and rifles; 2,260 grenade launchers.

The interlocutors of “Izvestia” note one more important trend: the significant growth in the number of noncombat irrevocable and sanitary losses.

By October of this year this reached 17,993 people, and more than 6,000 of them happened in the zone of the “Operation of United Forces in the East of the country. Suicides (more than 800 since the beginning of the year), road accidents (more than 300), careless handling of weapons (272), and poisoning from drugs (275) became the most frequent causes of death in civilian life. In 2018 a 22% increase in the number of servicemen who died as a result of premeditated murders has been noted — since the beginning of year 227 people killed.

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The Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine didn’t answer the question of “Izvestia” – how they explain such a state of affairs.

According to Ukrainian legislation, the Unauthorised Leaving of a Unit (ULU) and desertion are different crimes. According to the Ukrainian Criminal Code, the unauthorised leaving of a unit is considered as being absent from service (leaving the territory of a unit or not arriving there after a holiday or being in hospital) for 3 days. This is for “conscripts”. Contract serviceman can be accused of ULU if they are “lost” for more than 10 days. “Conscripts” risk being sent to serve in a disciplinary battalion for 2 years, and contract employees risk being issued a penalty of 100 minimum salaries. And in the conditions of martial law or in a combat situation Ukrainian law stipulates 10 years of imprisonment for this.

Desertion, which is punished by up to 12 years of imprisonment, is the unauthorised leaving of a unit for the purpose of evading service. I.e., if a soldier flees in connection with family circumstances, it is ULU. And if they fled in order to avoid going to the zone of the “Operation of Integrated Forces”, then under Ukrainian law it is desertion.

Neither the prison, nor the hryvnia will prevent desertion

During active combat operations in Donbass there were cases of Ukrainian troops and militants from so-called voluntary battalions deserting by whole units. For example, in August 2014 the “Prykarpatye” battalion self-willingly left its positions went home to the Ivano-Frankovsk region with weapons in their hands. Later the army’s command blamed the battalion for the defeat near Ilovaisk, and criminal cases were initiated against some of the personnel. Some dozens of “Prykarpatye” militants went on the run. At the beginning of 2015 the battalion was disbanded.

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The moral condition of the Ukrainian army causes big fears, said the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the “Opposition Bloc” Evgeny Balitsky to “Izvestia”. The fact that it leaves much to be desired is also evidenced by the fact that those who are said to have carried out the sensational murder of the employee of the Kherson city hall, the activist Ekaterina Gandzyuk, are five participants of the military operations in the East of the country as a part of voluntary formations.

“A few years ago another ‘fighter’ threw a grenade near the walls of the Verkhovna Rada. The general state and quality of our army causes serious concern,” noted Evgeny Balitsky.

Irreplaceable deserters

The Ukrainian army is chronically incomplete because of the desertion of many thousands of military personnel. This affects its combat capabilities in a negative way. It will be difficult for the Ukrainian authorities to fill the gaps in personnel.

“And now people continue to hide from summons. Moreover, the inhabitants of Galicia – the most ‘patriotic’ region of Ukraine – are especially active in this,” considers the political scientist Vladimir Kornilov. “As a rule, the natives of the Russian-speaking regions of the South and East of Ukraine are obliged to replace them”.

And the fact that the active phase of combat operations ended hasn’t changed the situation, he added.

“There used to be some kind of motive to serve in non-combat time in order to provide for oneself. But now the Ukrainian army is in such an awful state that young inhabitants who had the opportunity to find a job and earn dozens of times more money somewhere in Poland have neither the motive nor the desire to serve.”

If the situation in Donbass becomes aggravated once again, the Kiev authorities will  again renew the round-ups of young men in Ukrainian cities, considers the expert.

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Concerning the situation in Russia, according to media reports, the number the cases that fall under Article 338 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Desertion”) is estimated to be in the tens (in 2014 — 50 cases). The cases of a unit being abandoned without authorisation (Article 337 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) are more — some hundreds. The main military prosecutor’s office doesn’t reveal the official number of criminal cases initiated against military personnel who fled their unit. But the situation is far from being critical, which is also indirectly confirmed by the fact that if earlier disciplinary battalions (where run-away recruits serve their sentence) were in every military district, then now there are only 2 in the entire country. Military investigative bodies regularly report a decrease in the number of fugitives who are being searched for. Last year more than 600 people were detained — this concerns not only the military personnel of the Ministry of Defence, but also other siloviki departments that offer military service. This includes those who have been on the run since the mid-1990’s and early 2000’s.

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