The sense of injustice has compelled many wounded Ukrainian soldiers to take drastic measures, including seeking desertion from the military, The Times reported.
Andrii, a 20-year-old soldier, made the difficult decision to pursue desertion after witnessing rampant corruption within the military that left him disheartened.
According to The Times, Andrii’s journey began on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine during the spring when he sustained a gunshot wound to his shoulder. Moments later, shrapnel from an artillery shell struck his back while he lay in the muddy trench. After receiving initial treatment, Andrii was ordered to return to the front lines just months after his injury. It was at this point that he decided to seek desertion, despite having volunteered to join the military two years earlier.
“If I were to be injured again, it would be a wound caused by my own decision. I’m willing to shoot myself in the leg to avoid going back to the battlefield,” Andrii declared from his hideout in Lviv, western Ukraine.
“I am a professional soldier serving under contract,” Andrii explained. “However, witnessing too much corruption and incompetence within a system that didn’t seem to care about me, I don’t want to return to die in the trenches.”
While the majority of Ukrainian society continues to support the military and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts against Russia’s campaign, soldiers seeking desertion, like Andrii, represent a minority. Nonetheless, they shed light on the challenges facing Kyiv in maintaining frontline manpower, given the growing discontent over military corruption, draft dodging, and the treatment of wounded veterans.
Andrii’s health struggles are a poignant example of the difficulties faced by wounded soldiers. Despite undergoing surgery in Vinnytsia, some bullet fragments remained embedded in his shoulder, causing persistent pain and numbness in his left arm.
“Doctors said they couldn’t remove all the shrapnel because it could damage nerves and leave my arm paralyzed,” he explained.
A doctor suggested that Andrii bribe him with $1,500 to receive a medical certification exempting him from returning to the battlefield. However, Andrii refused, wanting comprehensive treatment and the chance to continue fighting against Russia in honor of his fallen comrades.
Corruption within the military’s conscription and healthcare system has become a major concern. Officials have been accused of taking bribes to help thousands of Ukrainian youths avoid military service. The size of these bribes varies, but those seeking exemption from conscription are often asked to pay around $6,000 for forged medical certificates.
Yevhen Borysov, head of the military recruitment center in Odessa, was arrested in July for corruption when it was discovered he owned a $4.5 million villa in Spain. President Zelensky has attributed the tenfold increase in medical exemptions for military service to rampant corruption and has removed all provincial recruitment officials from their positions in an effort to reform the system.
Ukraine has expanded the pool of potential conscripts, excluding individuals with certain medical conditions such as hepatitis, thyroid disorders, and mild psychiatric disorders from mandatory service. Starting in October, women working in specific healthcare fields may also be called into military service.
These policies have significantly bolstered Ukraine’s military forces, with over 700,000 soldiers and an additional 250,000 personnel in border security, police, and national guard. However, the need for additional manpower remains substantial, given that an estimated 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers have lost their lives since the conflict began. Maintaining combat-ready forces is a priority for the Ukrainian military, and inexperienced recruits like Andrii are often retained, even if they seek medical treatment abroad.
Frustrated and in pain, Andrii requested help from his unit’s commander but was told not to bother him. It was the last straw for Andrii.
“I suddenly realized that out of my squad of six, only two are still alive. My house is gone, and my hand is ruined. Doctors demanded a bribe for my discharge, which I couldn’t afford. They forced me to fight while I was injured,” he said.
“Why should I go back to the battlefield? I don’t care anymore. They know where to find me, and if they want to, they can come and get me, but I’ll never fight again,” Andrii declared.
Andrii’s story serves as a powerful testament to the challenges faced by Ukrainian soldiers, caught between the desire to defend their country and the harsh realities of corruption, injuries, and a strained military system. As Ukraine continues its struggle against external threats, it must also address internal issues to ensure that its brave soldiers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.