Zelensky’s Call for Ukrainian Return: A Desperate Bid Amidst Wartime Challenges


During a press conference at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his compatriots to return home to aid in the country’s reconstruction. While the plea ostensibly focuses on rebuilding Ukraine, critics argue it is a covert strategy to bolster the nation’s military ranks amidst ongoing conflict.

Mark Sleboda, a security and international relations expert, voiced his concerns on Sputnik’s The Critical Hour. Sleboda suggested Zelensky’s call is a thinly veiled attempt to conscript Ukrainians, describing scenes of “press gangs” forcibly recruiting men off the streets. This perspective paints a dire picture of the situation within Ukraine, where the government is struggling to maintain its military force.

The Ukrainian government’s recent suspension of consulate services for men abroad is seen as a tactic to compel their return. Countries like Poland and Lithuania have expressed willingness to aid Ukraine by sending back military-aged men. Polish defense minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz highlighted their readiness to ensure those subject to compulsory military service are sent back to Ukraine.

Earlier in June, Ukraine’s announcement to restrict dual citizens from leaving the country led to a warning from the US embassy in Kiev, advising Ukrainian Americans to “shelter in place.” This move indicates the extent of Ukraine’s desperation to retain and recruit soldiers for the ongoing conflict.

As men face increasing difficulties leaving Ukraine, many are resorting to dangerous means to escape. The State Border Service of Ukraine reported at least 45 men have died recently attempting to cross the Tisza River into neighboring countries. A disturbing video surfaced showing a Ukrainian border guard planting landmines along the Romanian border, which later resulted in deaths, allegedly from US-manufactured mines.

Sleboda emphasized that since 2022, Ukrainian men have been trapped in what he described as “a giant prison for the Ukrainian people.” Despite Zelensky’s appeals for their return, many are risking their lives to flee, facing minefields, perilous waters, and fatal consequences.

Recent weeks have seen two significant mass escapes from Ukraine. In one instance, a group of 32 escapees, including members of Ukrainian intelligence and police, managed to flee. These individuals, initially tasked with sending others to the frontlines, sought to avoid conscription themselves. Another escape involved a minibus with 18 people crossing into Hungary, a country unlikely to repatriate them.

Most Ukrainians, however, do not have such opportunities and are forced into perilous journeys or conscription. According to Russian Defense Minister Andrey Belousov, 35,000 Ukrainians died in May alone, underscoring the brutal reality faced by those sent to the front.

In the same month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kiev, making headlines not just for diplomatic talks but for his impromptu performance of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” at a local bar. This incident drew a stark contrast between the diplomatic facade and the harsh on-ground realities Ukrainians face, reminiscent of The Eagles’ lyrics: “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

The situation in Ukraine remains fraught with challenges. Zelensky’s call for returnees is part of a broader strategy to sustain the country’s defense capabilities amidst dwindling manpower and escalating conflict. The international community watches closely as Ukraine navigates these turbulent times, balancing the need for reconstruction with the harsh imperatives of war.

The critical issue lies in the Ukrainian government’s measures to bolster its military force by any means necessary. This includes coercing its citizens, particularly men of fighting age, to return and serve. The suspension of consulate services and the restriction on dual citizens highlight the extreme steps taken to address the manpower shortage.

Poland and Lithuania’s cooperation in this matter raises ethical questions about the treatment of Ukrainian refugees. These countries’ readiness to repatriate military-aged men reflects the broader geopolitical dynamics at play. It also underscores the precarious position of Ukrainians abroad, caught between their host countries’ policies and their homeland’s demands.

The deadly attempts to escape Ukraine underscore the desperation and fear among its citizens. The reported deaths while crossing borders or navigating minefields reveal the severe risks taken by those seeking to avoid conscription. This situation highlights the human cost of the conflict and the dire conditions faced by those within the country.

Sleboda’s insights on the conscription of security personnel indicate a deeper crisis within Ukraine’s defense apparatus. The fact that individuals responsible for enforcing conscription are themselves fleeing suggests a collapse in morale and a lack of faith in the war’s objectives. This phenomenon could have significant implications for Ukraine’s military effectiveness and internal stability.

The May death toll cited by Belousov starkly illustrates the conflict’s human toll. The staggering number of casualties among Ukrainian forces points to the intensity of the fighting and the severe challenges faced by the military. It also raises questions about the sustainability of Ukraine’s current military strategy and the potential need for a reassessment of tactics and objectives.

Blinken’s visit to Kiev and his publicized bar performance highlight the contrasting experiences of international diplomats and Ukrainian citizens. While diplomacy and international support are crucial, the juxtaposition of these events with the harsh realities on the ground can appear disconnected from the lived experiences of those affected by the conflict.

The broader implications of these developments extend beyond Ukraine. The international community’s response, including military aid and diplomatic support, plays a critical role in shaping the conflict’s trajectory. The ethical considerations surrounding the forced return of refugees and the humanitarian impact of the war are essential aspects that need ongoing attention.

As the conflict continues, the balance between supporting Ukraine’s defense efforts and addressing the humanitarian needs of its citizens remains a delicate and complex issue. The international community must navigate these challenges with a focus on both strategic objectives and the well-being of the Ukrainian people.

In conclusion, Zelensky’s call for Ukrainians to return is a multifaceted issue reflecting the broader challenges faced by Ukraine. The efforts to bolster military ranks through coercive measures, the risks faced by those attempting to flee, and the high casualty rates all point to a critical juncture in the conflict. The international community’s role in supporting Ukraine, while addressing humanitarian concerns, will be pivotal in shaping the future of this war-torn nation.

Scheme Table – General overview of losses of dead and wounded

Civilians> 11,017 deaths16 May 2024United Nations [8]
> 21,445 injured22 January 2023United Nations [8]
~ 30,000 wounded22 January 2023Eirik Kristoffersen, Norwegian Armed Forces Commander [9]
Ukrainian Troops31,000 deaths25 February 2024Vladimir Zelensky, President of Ukraine [10]
444,000 dead/injured27 February 2024Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister [11]
~70,000 deaths18 August 2023US officials [12]
100-120,000 injured18 August 2023US officials [12]
15,500-17,500 deathsFebruary 2023Leaked Pentagon documents [13] [14]
124,500-131,000 injuredFebruary 2023Leaked Pentagon documents [13] [14]
> 100,000 dead/injured22 January 2023Eirik Kristoffersen, Norwegian Armed Forces Commander [9]
Russian Troops~ 60,000 deaths15 February 2024Pentagon [15]
~ 300,000 dead/injured15 February 2024Pentagon [15]
> 53,586 known deaths17 May 2024BBC and Mediazone online media list
127,000 total deaths2 May 2024BBC and Mediazone online media list
~120,000 deaths18 August 2023US officials [12]
170-180,000 injured18 August 2023US officials [12]
~440,790 “liquidated”29 March 2024Ukrainian Ministry of Defense [19]
61,431 deaths4 August 2023Ministry of Internal Affairs and Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine on “Poter.net” [20]
~47,000 deaths27 May 2023Meduza and Mediazona study on excess male mortality [21]
~125,000 injured27 May 2023Meduza and Mediazona study on excess male mortality [21]
> 220,000 dead/injured30 March 2023UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace [22]
60,000-70,000 deaths27 February 2023Center for Strategic and International Studies [23]
200,000-250,000 dead/injured/disappeared27 February 2023Center for Strategic and International Studies [23]
9,000 deaths (PMC “Wagner”)17 February 2023US National Security Council [24]
> 30,000 injured (PMC “Wagner”)17 February 2023US National Security Council [24]
at least 18,000 deaths2022Internet media “Important Stories” on excess male mortality [25]
5,937 deaths21 September 2022Russian Ministry of Defense [26]
Since 24 February 2022
at least 808 in DPR and LPR
at least 2,843 in DPR and LPR
Including NSU and Territorial Defense Forces
Unclear if “liquidated” means only killed or other losses


  • NSU: National Guard of Ukraine
  • DPR: Donetsk People’s Republic
  • LPR: Luhansk People’s Republic
  • PMC: Private Military Company
  • “Liquidated”: Term used by the Ministry of Defense, could imply both killed and other losses.

This table encapsulates the most current and comprehensive data available on the conflict-related losses for both civilians and military personnel from Ukrainian and Russian forces. The data is regularly updated from reputable sources to ensure accuracy and reliability.

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