In this Ukrainian village, almost no men are left

In this Ukrainian village, almost no men are left

MAKIV, Ukraine — Few men of fighting age are left in this village in southwest Ukraine, and those who remain fear they will be drafted at any moment.

Their neighbors are already hundreds of miles east in trenches on the front lines. Some have been killed or wounded. Several are missing. Others from this rural area — about 45 miles from the borders of Romania and Moldova — have fled abroad or found ways to avoid the war, either with legitimate exemptions or by hiding.

“It’s just a fact,” said Larysa Bodna, deputy director of the local school, which keeps a database of students whose parents are deployed. “Most of them are gone.”

Ukraine desperately needs more troops, with its forces depleted by deaths, injuries and exhaustion. Despite Russia’s own enormous casualties, the invaders still far outnumber Ukraine’s defenders, an advantage that is helping Moscow advance on the battlefield. Ukraine’s parliament is debating a bill to expand the draft pool, in part by lowering the eligibility age to 25 from 27, but few decisions are being made in Kyiv that will quickly answer the army’s urgent needs.

Civilians here say that means military recruiters are grabbing everyone they can. In the west, the mobilization drive has steadily sown panic and resentment in small agricultural towns and villages like Makiv, where residents said soldiers working for draft offices roam the near-empty streets searching for any remaining men. Such tactics have led some to believe that their men are being targeted disproportionately compared with other regions or bigger cities like Kyiv, where it is easier to hide.

Locals use Telegram channels to warn of soldier sightings and share videos of troops forcing men into their vehicles — stoking rumors of kidnappings. Some men are now serving time in jail for refusing to sign up.

“People are being caught like dogs on the street,” said Olha Kametyuk, 35, whose husband, Valentin, 36, was drafted in June by soldiers who approached him and asked for his papers after he stopped for coffee on the main road outside Makiv. Despite a diagnosis of osteochondrosis, a joint disorder, he passed his medical exam in 10 minutes, she said, and deployed to the front, where he was wounded.

“The whole village was taken this way,” said Valentin’s mother, Natalya Koshparenko, 61.

“Almost all our men have been scraped out,” said Serhii, 47, an infantry soldier from Makiv who was drafted in March 2022 and serves in Ukraine’s 115th brigade.

Home for a short break this month for the first time in a year, Serhii said he had already been stopped and questioned. So had his son, who is only 22 and not yet eligible to be drafted. The Washington Post is identifying Serhii only by his first name because of the risk of repercussions.

When the soldiers realized he was already serving, he said, they asked how he felt about men “‘who haven’t seen a single day of war” — which he said he regarded as a forced, hollow show of camaraderie. Serhii said he replied by saying it was them, not his fellow villagers, he resented most.

“You’re military and I’m a civilian, but I’m fighting and you’re not,” he said. The conversation, he noted, “ended immediately.”

Oleksii, 30, was fixing his car last year when soldiers approached and handed him a draft order. It was Valentine’s Day and the news broke his girlfriend, Elvira, who works in a small shop in Makiv and barely ate for weeks afterward. Oleksii accepted his fate, but his experience has served as a warning to others about the realities on the front.

After three concussions and shrapnel wounds, Oleksii recently returned home. Scrolling through his phone, he showed a photo of him with more than a dozen fellow troops. Only two are still alive, he said.

This month, villagers in Makiv buried another of their own — Ihor Dozorets, a contract soldier who was wounded so badly that his son, also a soldier, identified him only by a scar on his hand. “He wanted to come home,” Ihor’s sister, Inna Melnyk, 43, said through tears. “He was tired of it all. But what can we do?”

Vasyl Hrebeniuk, 70, said that even at his age — 10 years over the draft limit — soldiers have regularly stopped and questioned him in Makiv.

Six weeks ago, he watched soldiers bang on a neighbor’s door, complaining that the man who lived there had asked to go say goodbye to his wife and mother, then disappeared. One soldier said they “should have taken him immediately, put him in the bus and driven away,” Hrebeniuk recalled.

Scenarios like these have left Polina, 16, anxious about how much longer she has with her father — one of the few draft-eligible men left in the village.

Last summer, Polina and her friend Olha were relaxing at a table outside the village store when Olha’s dad called and asked her to buy something for him there. She brushed off his request, saying she was busy with friends. He walked to the store himself instead, and the teens watched in horror as soldiers surrounded him and handed him a summons on the way in.

He has been serving ever since — and his daughter blames herself. “Olha thought it was her fault,” Polina said.

Tetiana Lychak, 32, a teacher at the local school, lost her husband on the front line in late 2022. Her son Max is only 5 but already speaks of joining the army, Lychak said, and she wonders if she, too, should take a turn. One of her colleagues, a teacher who used to instruct high school students in basic army drills as part of a course called “Protecting Ukraine,” is now deployed. Three students in his class have fathers serving in the military.

Maya Proskurivska, 63, is hiding the truth about her son-in-law, Oleksandr, 41, from his children, who are 8 and 14. Sent to fight in the Donetsk region, he has been missing since December, she said, but the children think he is confirmed as a prisoner of war. These days, she said, “on our street, it’s hard to find a young man.”

On a chilly afternoon this month, Eleanora Voropanova, 4, pedaled her tricycle up and down the quiet road outside her house. Asked if her parents were home, she paused. “Mom is home,” she replied. “Dad is at war.”

Her mother, Tanya, 42, opened the gate. Inside, her nephew, Bohdan, 25, and his friend Artem, also 25, trudged through the yard, chopping firewood.

It had been 16 months since Tanya last heard from her husband, Serhii, who joined the army in March 2022 and disappeared while fighting that November. A fellow soldier called at the time and told her he had two updates. “The first is he’s not among the dead,” she recalled him saying. “The second is he’s not among the living.”

She has lived in that limbo ever since — raising two daughters, now 4 and 8, alone. Her brother-in-law, Bohdan’s father, feared going to fight and fled abroad — a decision she scorns.

“There are people hiding, sitting at home, not even willing to go to the store,” she said.  » …
Read More

0 I like it
0 I don't like it