Defending Ukraine’s Draft Dodgers

Back in 2015, when I was driving from Kuopio Finland up to the country’s far north to write an article on global warming and how it was affecting the Sami indigenous people of Lappland, I found myself offering rides to a number of Ukrainian young people, mostly male, or males accompanied by girlfriends, who were fleeing the civil war in their country, which saw Ukrainian forces, including the fascist Azov Battalion, shelling and shooting at ethnic Russians in the two breakaway oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk.

These young people of draft age all told me they were fleeing their country to avoid being drafted to fight in a war against their countrymen in eastern Ukraine, a majority Russian region of Ukraine.  “I have nothing against those people in Donbas,” one young man told me, “and I don’t want to be forced to kill them and get killed myself.”

They had all gone to Finland because of short-term agricultural work visas available to people willing to pick blueberries, which cover the forest floor above the Arctic Circle at that time of summer.

I appreciated their dilemma.   Back in the Spring of 1967  I and many young men like me of draft age were faced with a draft at a time that the US was ramping up a war against Vietnam and forces in that country that were fighting for its liberation from a century or more of colonial and imperial subjugation and for unification after the US had blocked a unification election fearing it would result in a victory by national hero and Communist Party leader Ho Chi Minh.

I didn’t want to support the US war, or any war. My options were leaving for Canada, as some of my school classmates did, hiding out and dodging the draft and the FBI, which others did, or resisting the draft and refusing to be inducted, which  would likely mean federal prison, as others did. I knew I would not participate in the war in Indochina in any capacity, even doing “alternative service.”    With a low draft lottery number (81) assuring I would get a call to be inducted into the army,  I chose resistance.

But I didn’t pass judgement on what choices  other young men made. Anyone who took steps to avoid being made part of the US war machine was doing the right thing in my view.

Now in Ukraine men of all ages between 18 and 60 are required to take up arms and defend their country from a Russian invasion. Some may say that it is a struggle for the independence of Ukraine, but the issues are more complex than that. Ukraine has not been innocent in the conflict with its larger neighbor Consider for example the laws passed since the 2014  US-backed Maidan Coup that overthrew Ukraine’s elected government and president — laws barring Russian language in schools, and punishing and threatening ethnic Russians and also the violent attacks on the two oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk, in violation of n agreement reached in Minsk that granted them autonomy.

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