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Ukrainian border chief says dozens have died trying to flee illegally since February 2022

A mural depicting a Ukrainian soldier in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A mural depicting a Ukrainian soldier in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Copyright AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Copyright AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
By Euronews
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Organised people-smuggling groups are reportedly taking Ukrainians' money and dispatching them on dangerous border crossings without adequate preparation.

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The head of Ukraine's state border guard has said at least 30 people have died attempting to flee the country since February 2022, as the number of Ukrainians trying to avoid conscription continues to rise.

In an interview with Ukraine's national news agency, Ukrinform, Andriy Demchenko said illegal attempts to cross the border occur every day, often with the help of third parties.

"Most of these attempts are outside the checkpoints on the border with Moldova and Romania," he said. "The largest number of attempts with forged documents is recorded on the border with Poland. Most of the offenders are not independent participants in the process, they use the services of organisers."

Demchenko explained the death toll reflects not just the danger of crossing the border in itself, but the paid people smugglers' lack of interest in the escapees' safety.

"It is strange that people are willing to pay large sums of money without knowing the person personally. They receive some instructions, transfer money somewhere for the instructions, and then they are faced with the fact that the route runs along a mountain river.

"Then the violators are surprised that they paid money, they were promised assistance, and when they got to the border, they found that they had to cross a mountain river, and many realised that they did not have enough strength to do so.

"And so someone lost their life trying to cross a mountain river or cross the mountains...In addition to these obstacles, there are wild animals in the mountains that also pose a serious threat to life."

New Ukrainian army recruits at an end-of-training ceremony in Kyiv.
New Ukrainian army recruits at an end-of-training ceremony in Kyiv.Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

According to Demchenko, since the introduction of martial law, some 450 criminal groups specialising in smuggling people out of the country have been exposed by the authorities. 

He also said some 120 people are stopped at the border every day, many of them because they cannot produce evidence of the purpose of their trips.

Pulling out the stops

Ukraine recently lowered the minimum age for compulsory military service from 27 to 25 in an attempt to boost its ranks. 

The undersupplied army is struggling to hold back Russian forces in several areas, while a high proportion of troops have had adequate time to rest and recover away from the battlefield for many months.

The country has also expanded the scope of martial law as it prepares for an anticipated Russian offensive in the east and south.

A recent breakthrough in the US Congress has however provided Ukraine with new hope, clearing the way for a much-needed influx of American military aid after months of deadlock.

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