How Ukrainian men are trying to circumvent the ban on leaving the country | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW


Anton (name has been changed) was a businessman in Ukraine. On February 24, he traveled to the border with his wife and their two children to escape the Russian invasion. The trip, which usually lasts only a few hours, took them almost all day.

But while they were still on the way, President Volodymyr Zelensky banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country.

This meant that Anton’s wife and children were allowed to leave for the EU, while he stayed behind – and immediately started looking for ways to reunite with them. “Duty to family took priority,” Anton said. He traveled to a village on the border with Romania, with the aim of crossing the Tisza River. “We were several men. But the locals betrayed us and we were caught. We didn’t even reach the river,” Anton told DW, adding that he later heard that smugglers usually take four people away. to the river for $5,000 (€4,930). ) each and show them where to cross. Anton was drafted into the army there, but there was no suitable assignment for him, so he returned home and made new plans to leave.

Tips found on social media

The ban on leaving the country does not apply to single fathers, men with three or more children and people with disabilities. Students of foreign universities, drivers of humanitarian aid transports, as well as people with permanent residence abroad are also exempt from the ban.

Some men who do not belong to any of these categories but want to leave Ukraine choose the route via Crimea, which was annexed by Russia. Others enroll in a foreign university, find a job as a volunteer emergency rescue driver or attempt to cross the so-called green border on foot.

Social networks offer various tips. The “Departure for Everyone” Instagram account has more than 14,000 followers. Private chats share information on how to retroactively enroll in a Polish or European university – indicating a date before the start of the war – within ten days for €980.

Ukrainian refugees at the Polish border

“Men like me are called traitors”

Anton managed to leave Ukraine with the help of a charitable foundation run by friends. “The foundation applied for an exit permit. We all drove and the cars came back to Ukraine with humanitarian aid, but I stayed in the EU. Men like me are called traitors,” he said. declared. “I’m not afraid of the front, and if I hadn’t had kids I would have been there a long time ago. But we didn’t have kids for my wife to somehow survive. another alone with them,” he added.

There seems to be some interest in leaving the country. “Legal Move Abroad”, a Telegram channel, has over 53,000 subscribers and its relief channel, “Help at the Border”, has over 28,000. For $1,500, the latter offers a certificate exempting a person from the military service for health reasons. Another offer is to leave the country ostensibly as a driver of a humanitarian aid truck. Apparently, this gets ten men a day out of the country, at a cost of $2,000.

Telegram also publishes reviews from people who allegedly used these services: “I went there as an assistant, everything went faster and easier than I thought”; “Thank you for helping my son, he is now in Italy”; “I arrived in Bulgaria, I am grateful.” DW wrote to several of these users, but only one responded, saying he didn’t want to “risk anything or say anything.”

Most Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Germany

More than nine million Ukrainians have fled abroad since February 24, according to the UN. DW has asked the Ukrainian border control service how many men are included in this figure, but has not yet received an answer. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reported on March 1 that some 80,000 men of military age had returned to the country, most after February 24, “to defend sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Poland and Germany took in the most refugees. Poland had 3.6 million, including 432,000 men aged 18 to 60, between February 24 and June 7. In Germany, 867,214 refugees were registered from the end of February to June 19. According to a March survey commissioned by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, 48% of arrivals were women with children, 14% were single women, 7% were men with children and 3% were men arriving alone.

A petition and many bribes

In May, Odessa lawyer Alexander Gumirov launched a petition asking Kyiv to lift a ban on men traveling abroad and instead calling for the recruitment of volunteers. Within days, the petition garnered 25,000 signatures, which compelled the president to review it. Response from Volodymyr Zelensky: the petition should be addressed to the relatives of soldiers who died defending Ukraine.

Gumirow still considers the ban unnecessary. “If a person wants to defend his free and beloved native country, his home and his family, there is no need for a ban on leaving,” he said, adding that a ban is also useless. if people don’t want to defend their house.

Alexander Gumirov, the man smiles at the camera with the seaside in the background

Alexander Gumirov submitted a petition to the President to allow the men to leave Ukraine

Many men in Ukraine currently cannot find work, cannot feed their families and do not pay taxes, according to Gumirov. Moreover, he says, prohibition leads to corruption. He says he receives daily inquiries about possible loopholes to circumvent the ban, adding that each comes with an offer of a bribe.

Dmytro Busanov, a lawyer from Kyiv, said that according to the constitution, the restriction of the right to leave Ukraine can only be regulated by law, which has not been done so far. He considers the current ban illegal. “I get a lot of complaints, but people don’t want to sue,” Busanov said. He said he thought it would be possible to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

Too few volunteers

Ukrainian men who travel abroad are often condemned by the wives of the fighting men, said a Ukrainian lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous. Her husband volunteered to be on the front line. She said she supported Gumirov’s petition in principle, but it was poorly worded — it implies that people can all just walk away and “let the volunteers fight. It’s unfair.” There are too few volunteers, said the lawyer, who is currently in the EU with her children. Her husband wanted to return to the fight, but he also wants to see his children, she said. She suggests granting soldiers short leaves and allowing them to travel abroad.

Anton, has since moved to an EU country with his wife and children. He is learning the language and looking for a job. He does not rule out returning home if Ukraine wins the war. “In times of peace, I have always said that Ukraine is one of the best places to live.” He is a patriot, he says, adding that he wants the war to end as soon as possible. “I send money to the army,” says Anton. “We’re far away, but that doesn’t mean I’m a traitor.”

This article was originally written in Russian.

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