THE WAR IN UKRAINE: AN INSIDE SCOOP
by Gennady Shkliarevsky
Professor Emeritus, Bard College
Many of us in the West are getting the bulk of our information about the war in Ukraine from the MSM. We learn a great deal about the savagery and violence perpetrated by the pro-Russian forces, but we rarely, if at all, hear anything about the cruelty and ruthlessness of the Ukrainian authorities toward the Ukrainian people. I would like to address this imbalance.
I have recently chanced upon an exchange that several Ukrainians had on Facebook. This exchange originated from the post put up by one individual who was recently called to the military office in charge of inducting people into the army. During his visit to the office, this individual underwent an obligatory medical examination required by law in such cases.
This particular individual has a host of health problems. He survived a bout with poliomyelitis that struck his spinal cord when he was just six months old. As a result of the bout, the left side of his body was totally paralyzed. The two decades of intensive treatment restored mobility in his arm, but his leg is still diagnosed with paresis. He has never served in the army and has been pronounced unfit for military service on five separate occasions, recorded in his military identity card.
The examination was very perfunctory; the examining medics did not even take the basic vital signs, like weight and height. At the end of this “examination,” the doctor in charge pronounced that the subject was fit for military service.
Attempts by the subject to explain that he could not walk continuously for ten minutes, to say nothing of running, had no effect. Finally, the examining neuropathologist recommended that the subject should be sent for additional examination.
However, he warned this person in question that this recommendation must be approved by the head medical office. If this officer did not give his approval, the recommendation would be disregarded.
The author of the post explains that he is not in principle against joining the military, but he is very concerned about one fact: government officials violate existing laws left and right.
There are numerous cases when individuals unfit for combat service join army auxiliary units where they spend just about a month, and then they are sent to the training camp. After a short basic training course, they are sent to the battlefront in Bakhmut or some other location where there is intense fighting.
Obviously, at that stage of their military career, they cannot object to commanding officers making this decision because they can be court-martialed under military laws for disobeying the commanding officer.
The post has provoked a lively and very relevant discussion that sheds further light on the situation in Ukraine. Contributors to this discussion explain that the officers in charge of enlistment are former policemen who ruthlessly pursue citizens.
One also learns from the exchange that often, soldiers that are sent into battle are poorly trained. For example, one person mentions that during the battle for Kherson, soldiers were sent with Molotov cocktails against tanks. The commentators are not shirkers. They are patriots who want to defend their country. But they resent the corrupt officials who seek to obtain a bribe in exchange for release from service. Wealthy Ukrainians are buying their way out of the army.
The war in Ukraine is not going well. It constantly demands more and more sacrifices from Ukrainian citizens. One can understand the Ukrainian government that tries to stem Russia’s advances. However, trying to solve the problems of the war at the expense of handicapped and disabled people is hardly a solution.
Forcing civilians who are simply not fit for military duty due to severe illnesses and other problems cannot win this war. Zelensky’s government increasingly shows signs of desperation. In its efforts to fill up the ranks, the government uses various ways of compulsion to fulfill the required quotas. Even severely sick and handicapped individuals are not off limits for eager government employees in charge of enlistment.
We all know that these are tough times for the Ukrainian government. The situation at the battlefront forces it to use all extraordinary measures to avert imminent dangers. War is a cruel business that has no consideration for people’s lives and well-being. However, war cannot be a reason for violating basic rights, particularly people who are vulnerable.
Moreover, those who support the Ukrainian government must not condone the policies that violate these rights. We all—not just those who oppose this war, but also those who support it—know that no matter how cruel the war is, no matter how difficult the circumstances are that war can bring, we should never lose our basic humanity. We should try to make every effort to protect those who are sick and vulnerable. If we fail to do so, we risk a lot more than just losing a war; we risk losing our very humanity.