LYMAN, Ukraine (NEWSnet/AP) — After the Russian army began its invasion of Ukraine two years ago, Ukrainian men flocked to recruitment centers across their country to enlist.

Today, with Russia in control of roughly one-quarter of Ukraine and the two armies virtually deadlocked on the front line, that enthusiasm has faded: Many Ukrainian men are evading the draft by hiding at home or trying to bribe their way out of service.

As the war enters its third year, an urgent challenge for Ukraine is whether it can keep enough soldiers in service to repel an enemy with far more fighters at its disposal. Russia’s population is more than three times as large as Ukraine’s, and President Vladimir Putin has shown a willingness to force men to the front if not enough volunteer.

To replenish its ranks, the Ukrainian government is considering legislation that would increase the potential pool of recruits by lowering the enlistment age from 27 to 25.

But that proposal is highly unpopular.

Tens of thousands of already eligible Ukrainian men are estimated to be evading the draft, at home or abroad.

Because there aren’t enough new recruits, soldiers on the front line aren’t getting enough rest in between rotations. Two years of grueling battles have left men fatigued and more susceptible to injury. When there are new recruits, they are too few, too poorly trained and often too old, according to interviews with two dozen Ukrainian soldiers, including six commanders.

At the start of the war, soldiers were rotated every two weeks for one week of rest, he said. But now soldiers might fight for a month, then get four days of rest.

In addition, the average Ukrainian servicemen is in their 40s, according to Western officials. Commanders say the older the soldiers, the more they experience chronic illness, such as ulcers, hernias and pinched nerves.

Under the draft legislation, any individual who fails to respond to call up notices also might have their bank accounts frozen and their ability to travel outside the country restricted — provisions that Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman has called unconstitutional.

And while the legislation envisions a pool of at least 400,000 new recruits, a more realistic figure may be half that after accounting for draft dodgers and those with legitimate claims to defer enlistment, said Oksana Zabolotna, an analyst with the Center for United Actions, a government watchdog in Kyiv.

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