Ukraine investigates corruption in medical exemptions from military duty

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy says bribes of between $3,000 and $15,000 paid for medical exemptions from military duty.

New Ukrainian army brigade recruits take part in a military exercise conducted by foreign instructor Magnus Ek, 53, in infantry training, combat tactic, shooting range practice and first aid training, in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
New Ukrainian army recruits take part in a military exercise conducted by a foreign instructor in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine, in March 2023 [File: Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called out what he described as systematic corruption in the country’s medical exemptions from service in the armed forces, saying the system was subject to widespread bribe-taking and the flight of people overseas.

Zelenskyy said that bribes of between $3,000 to $15,000 had been paid for medical exemptions from military duty.

All cases of medical exemptions from service since the beginning of Russia’s war on Ukraine – where there are suspicions – will be investigated, Zelenskyy said in his evening video address to the nation on Wednesday.

“It is necessary to check a significant number of decisions of the military medical commissions on disability and unfitness for military service that were made after February 24,” Zelenskyy said.

In some regions of Ukraine, the number of people removed from the military register due to decisions of the medical commission had “increased tenfold” since Russia’s invasion, he said.

“It is absolutely clear what these decisions are. Corrupt decisions,” the president said.

A list of Ukrainians who had travelled abroad due to “obviously dubious decisions” of the military medical commissions will be analysed separately, he added.

Zelenskyy also took aim at the “concept of so-called limited fitness”, which had allowed for “manipulation” in how certain Ukrainian military units were staffed, in particular combat brigades.

“Everything related to fitness or unfitness for military service must be as clear as possible so that a person understands how he or she can help the defence, and so that the units have clarity on who will be joining them,” he said.

Since Russia’s invasion in 2021, all Ukrainian men aged 18-60 who are deemed fit for military service are restricted from leaving the country – with some exceptions – and can be called up to join the war effort.

Earlier this month, Zelenskyy fired all the heads of Ukraine’s regional army recruitment centres in a sweeping anticorruption move.

Zelenskky said at the time that an investigation had exposed abuses by recruitment centre officials ranging from illegal enrichment to transporting men who were eligible for military duty over the country’s border despite a wartime ban on international travel for those eligible for service.

The issue of corruption in Ukraine’s military recruitment was exposed in June when a media investigation reported on the family wealth of Odesa’s regional draft commissar Yevhen Borysov. The investigation reported on millions of dollars worth of real estate and luxury vehicles allegedly owned by Borysov’s family members in Spain.

According to local media reports, Borysov was charged with “unlawful enrichment”. Borysov denied all wrongdoing, saying he had nothing to do with his family’s wealth.

Zelenskyy has made a crackdown on corruption in the military draft process a priority as his forces press on with a counteroffensive 18 months into Russia’s invasion.

Rooting out corruption in Ukraine’s government institutions is also a key element in the country’s bid to join the European Union.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies