Ukraine lawmakers back bill allowing some convicts to enlist in army

Ukrainian servicemen fire a Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzer toward Russian troops in Donetsk region

By Yuliia Dysa and Tom Balmforth

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's parliament passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow some convicts to enlist in the army in return for a chance at parole, part of a push to generate fresh manpower for Kyiv's outnumbered and exhausted troops.

More than 26 months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Ukraine is trying to fill a shortfall in manpower that some military analysts say is Kyiv's biggest challenge against a much larger foe.

The move is only expected to generate around several thousand new soldiers from a possible pool of up to 20,000 convicts, David Arakhamia, a senior lawmaker said.

The bill, which needs President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's signature to become law, would not allow people convicted of the most serious crimes to enlist, lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko said.

People convicted of the premeditated murder of two or more people, rape, sexual violence, crimes against national security and serious corruption violations would remain barred, he said.

"It's no secret that the mobilisation resource of our enemy is huge, and therefore we should use all available opportunities to fight back armed aggression," a note attached to the bill said.

"Some of these people are motivated and patriotic citizens who are ready to redeem themselves before society on the battlefield."

Convicts wanting to enlist would have to write an appeal to the head of the prison and conditional probation would be granted by a court decision.

"This must happen only by the convict's own will. Prisoners are not forced to mobilize," Honcharenko said on X.

Earlier, Justice Minister Denys Maliuska said separate units in the armed forces would be introduced for convict fighters.

Last month, Ukraine lowered the draft mobilisation age from 27 to 25, with 60 the maximum age, and also overhauled rules governing how it mobilises civilians into the army to reinforce and rotate troops.

In tandem, the government also temporarily suspended consular services for men of military age who reside abroad, complaining they were not helping the Ukrainian state fight for its survival.

Russian troops are advancing in the east and Ukraine is bracing for a big Russian offensive push later this spring or in summer.

To hold the line, analysts say Kyiv needs a significant inflow of weapons from the West and to replenish its ranks, though it is unclear if that will avert a Russian breakthrough on the battlefield.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa and Kyiv bureau; Editing by Tom Balmforth and David Gregorio)