On September 24th, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy offered guaranteed protections to Russian soldiers who surrender to Ukraine. Zelenskiy’s announcement arrived on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order of a partial mobilization of Russian reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine. The announcement on September 21st called up 300,000 reservists to replenish the Russian army, which sparked rare protests across the country, leading to over 1,000 arrests.
In his address, spoken in Russian, Zelenskiy quoted Russian citizens, calling the mobilization declared by Russia, “mobilization to graves,” in that Russian authorities are simply “sending their citizens to death.” He continued this sentiment, stating that the authorities are aware of their contentious decisions but do not have other options at this stage of the conflict. “Russian commanders do not care about the lives of Russians. They just need to replenish the empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled, or the Russian soldiers that were captured.” Telling Russians that surrendering to Ukrainian captivity is better than being killed in the war, Zelenskiy declared, “So, the key moment has come for you: right now it is being decided whether your life will end or not.”
Ukraine’s efforts to extend a hand towards Russian soldiers is a gracious step towards a peace-building process. The war itself is not nearing a de-escalation stage, however, efforts to promote peaceful solutions are always necessary, even in times of rampant conflict. As circumstances become increasingly dire for both sides, the citizens at the grassroots level require the most protection. With elites continuing their path of destruction, everyday citizens continue to suffer the consequences, and any efforts to alleviate their distress is certainly helpful—so long as they’re followed according to conventions, as professed by Zelenskiy.
Directing his words to Russians during his address, Zelenskiy claimed Ukraine could guarantee the following terms to Russian soldiers for their surrender: first, Russians fighters will be treated in a civilized manner; second, the circumstances of their surrender will remain undisclosed; and third, Ukraine will find a way to ensure those who do not want to return to Russia are not exchanged.
Putin’s mobilization order is the first of its kind in Russia since World War II. The call-ups increased tensions with Ukraine’s Western supporters, who viewed it as an act of weakness and desperation. This also follows Putin’s alleged signing of laws that increase the penalty for Russian soldiers who voluntarily surrender to Ukraine with up to 10 years in prison—the same punishment for those who refuse to engage in combat.
It is clear that Ukraine is attempting to spearhead a non-combative end to the suffering of their citizens. Zelenskiy has exhibited a clear intention to minimize the number of lives lost on each side in any feasible way, regardless of consequences. The potential success of these protections for surrendering Russian soldiers may be the first step in a journey toward cessation of direct violence in Ukraine.
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