Ukrainian public opinion warms up to draft dodgers

Apparel with a
Apparel with a "draft dodger" label, on sale in Ukraine

Vitaly Sych, Editor-in-Chief of NV Media, and Ukrainian financial expert Serhiy Fursa discuss the surprising trend that has recently appeared in Ukrainian society — lionization of draft dodgers — in their weekly podcast for NV Radio on May 7.

Fursa: The entire Ukrainian society was, is, and must be a resistance movement from the very beginning of the war. It’s clear that heroes, in particular boys and girls at the front, do the most. But the whole society remained [united] until very recently, it seemed to me, and will remain so.

But some these trends that are taking place in Ukrainian society have been very annoying for me in recent months.

Sych: What trends do you mean? Frustration?

Fursa: No, not frustration, something else. In fact, it all started last year, when the topic of corruption began to be raised very loudly sometime in the summer. We’ve always said that corruption is bad, but somehow there has been a disproportionate amount of corruption. And since then, as it seems to me, everything that happens in our information field, 50% or more, has been dictated not by the [United News] telethon, not by something else, but by Russian propaganda.

And from this escalation of the topic of corruption, so to speak, we went into a depressed state, which began in the autumn, due to many reasons. And by now, when it seemed that we would have bounced back, public discourse is suddenly awash with even more troubling notions.

What do I mean? Many photos have appeared in the last few days, and you can find many ads on the Internet selling t-shirts with questionable labels: “draft dodger,” “draft dodger’s wife,” “draft dodger’s friend.”

Read also: Ukraine launches over 11,000 cases against draft dodgers since 2022 invasion

Sych: And people seem to be proud of it. They happily publish photos of them wearing that. The only thing I saw was a photo of a guy in the subway wearing a “draft dodger” shirt. Being proud of something like that is a bit silly, to be honest. Has this phenomenon become more common?

Fursa: TikTok is instrumental here, it’s full of anti-Ukraine content.

There’s some kind of active brainwashing and normalization of this movement. Not that it’s shameful to be a draft dodger... I understand when people are afraid to join the army, or they don’t want to abandon their usual life for a routine of discipline, because army life is not about freedom.

Sych: This is a bizarre trend. Yevhen Dykyi, a veteran of the Russo-Ukrainian war, was on air with us recently. He said that everyone is afraid. Everyone is afraid in all countries, both in Germany and in Poland, to go to war. No one goes to war of their own free will. He told this in the context of what is the role of the state here, how state coercion should work, because otherwise mobilization simply wouldn’t have taken place.

Therefore, the fact that half of the people are afraid to join the army because of the fear of disability and death is normal. But I’m surprised by the fact that people valorize draft evasion, to the extent of proudly proclaiming themselves to be draft dodgers.

And if you say this is TikTok, where Russian content farms and Russia in general is active, maybe they really got involved in promoting this campaign.

Read also: Kyiv suspends consulate services for draft-eligible Ukrainians abroad — report

Fursa: The Russians are definitely getting involved and they’re spreading it. But that raises even more questions for those who wear these clothes, and most importantly, the businesses that sell them. Because one way or another, it’s a tool of Russian propaganda to discredit and disrupt mobilization.

The Russians are very actively focusing on this because it’s really their key to defeating us. We have Western aid, and we’ll have both financial and military aid. It will continue. Meaning that manpower is the only resource we cannot get from some other country. And that’s why the Russians are doing this.

And when someone puts on a “draft dodger” shirt, or some business sells this t-shirt, they are, in a sense, no different from those who help guide Russian missiles at Ukrainian army positions or energy facilities.

Sych: I wonder, what do people who wear these shirts think? Clearly, it’s not about pacifism, but about disruption of mobilization, about helping the enemy. It’s obvious, I think. How can you be proud of this when hundreds of thousands of your peers, friends, and compatriots are at the front? I don’t understand.

Fursa: Normally, when you evade the draft, stay at home, you despise yourself a little, you’re ashamed of it. And here you suddenly flip it around and become a member of a protest movement for justice.

Sych: You mean that it makes you feel that you’re becoming a fighter for justice. And this seems to be inherently virtuous.

I’ll add one more detail. I’m assuming because it’s TikTok, where the audience is very young, there are many people wearing and promoting it, because they’re not draft-aged, under 25, and they wouldn’t even get called up. It’s a kind of irony, a game to them.

Read also: Mobilization bill amended to exclude demobilization clause — report

Fursa: And it’s also a warning in terms of the state of Ukrainian society if people can make fun of such critical issues. Yes, you can be 20 years old, you won’t be mobilized. That’s not normal, by the way. It’s not normal that the median age of military servicemen or those mobilized in Ukraine exceeds 44 years. Someone said a blood pressure monitor is the most important tool in the army now. That’s not normal.

On the one hand, you can be 20 years old, but you still have to understand which country you live in, how many people, especially 20-year-olds, have already died. And here you’re flaunting such things, actually helping the enemy... Because when you just stay at home, don’t go out, and food is delivered to you, okay, I can accept it, it’s natural. But it’s not natural when you start playing on the enemy’s side, you’re actually promoting it.

Sych: You know, there’s another aspect in this story. Our friend and colleague Pavlo Kazarin wrote a column, which was published in [NV’s sister publication] Ukrainska Pravda, saying that we don’t have military success stories. We have so much written and reported about people who killed and maimed in battle that many Ukrainians now believe that getting drafted is a one-way ticket: if you go to war, you’ll return either in a coffin or wounded. There are hardly any publicized stories of people serving their country without becoming casualties.

This is nothing short of informational masochism. I understand why: it’s all a tragedy, it’s a drama, but this obsession with tragic stories from all sides has created such a narrative where people are just afraid to go to war, because they think that’s the only fate that awaits them.

Read also: Ukraine could mobilize up to 20,000 inmates

Fursa: General mobilization is always compulsory, by default. And you’re right, there’s a question why we don’t have heroes, why the authorities are afraid of elevating heroic soldiers, publicizing their stories. But even if we have these heroes, mobilization would still be compulsory.

Sych: I’m not trying to make excuses for the draft dodger movement, it’s just because Kazarin is right. Everything I read online are some tragic stories about who was killed or was horribly injured. But if you focus only on this, it’s clear you’re cultivating fear.

But that in no way excuses these idiotic t-shirts, this movement. And I’m surprised it has scaled up that we’re even talking about it now.

Fursa: Perhaps this is the beginning of this movement, but the fact that it’s already starting, emerging from the margins, and becoming socially acceptable is very dangerous. Because as soon as a movement becomes large-scale...

It was the same with anti-vaccination activists [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. When they first appeared, I thought they were some gullible mothers, getting information from some Viber [messenger app] chats, not realizing that there’s scientific evidence that disproves all those wild claims. But then it turned out that there many of them all over the world, not only in Ukraine. By the way, those who promoted anti-vaccination are now promoting draft evasion.

Therefore, a movement that lionizes draft evasion or normalizes it must be nipped in the bud. Honestly, I certainly don’t like stories when draft officers pick recruits off the streets, shoving them into a bus to get mobilized. Although I understand that recruitment centers are doing this not by choice. But if someone was walking down the street wearing a “draft dodger” shirt, I’d really like them to be the first to be put into a bus.

Right now, I wouldn’t mind if Ukraine’s SBU security service shut down shops that make and sell these shirts. Because it shouldn’t be like this, it can’t be normal.

Sych: If people think they’ve become part of some movement for justice, it’s a false feeling, it’s an idiotic narrative. It’s normal to be afraid, everyone is afraid. But promoting draft evasion, undermining your national defense, and working for the enemy is just stupid. And perhaps parents will tell their children that this is wrong.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine