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Ukraine Starts Freeing Some Prisoners to Join Its Military

Ukraine has begun releasing prisoners to serve in its army, part of a wider effort to rebuild a military that has been depleted by more than two years of war and is strained by relentless Russian assaults.

A regional court in western Ukraine said on Wednesday and Thursday that it had freed more than 50 prisoners under a new law that allows convicts to serve in the army in exchange for the possibility of parole at the end of their service. It is unclear how many prisoners in total have been released since the law came into force a week ago.

Denys Maliuska, Ukraine’s justice minister, told the BBC this month that 10,000 to 20,000 prisoners could be recruited. The Ukrainian authorities said this week that more than 3,000 prisoners had already applied.

The policy echoes a practice widely used by Russia to bolster its forces, but differs in some crucial ways. Russia’s program is open to prisoners convicted of violent crimes, while the Ukrainian law does not extend to people convicted of premeditated murder, rape or other serious offenses. The regional court said that most of the men released this week had been convicted of theft.

Ukraine initially mocked Russia’s push to recruit prisoners in exchange for parole earlier in the war. But with the conflict now in its third year and with Ukrainian forces struggling all along the front line, Kyiv desperately needs more soldiers.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in February that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the war — a figure that is well below estimates by American officials, who said in August that nearly 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed at that point.

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