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Zelensky clashes with his military chief over plan to launch travel permits

General ordered potential recruits to remain in their home towns


Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

Volodymyr Zelensky has clashed with his top general and forced him to drop plans to impose draconian travel restrictions on men of fighting age.

The Ukrainian president’s rare criticism of the military’s most senior commander was delivered at the end of his nightly televised briefing to Ukrainians.

It came a few days after the Ukrainian military’s retreat from the Luhansk region, half of Vladimir Putin’s priority Donbas objective.

“There have been a lot of disputes in society regarding the decision of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to approve a procedure for obtaining certain permits for those liable for military service, conscripts and reservists,” Mr Zelensky said.

“I ask the General Staff not to make such decisions without me in the future.”

Earlier, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander of the Ukrainian military, ordered potential recruits and conscripts not to travel from their homes unless they had received special permission, a move analysts said was designed to make recruitment and mobilisation easier.

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, Ukraine’s government has imposed a full mobilisation of men of fighting age. The new rules would have prevented these men from travelling outside their home towns unless they completed the correct paperwork and then received a pass from an official.

Military officials said the permit system was needed to speed up recruitment drives necessary to replace massive battlefield casualties, but many ordinary Ukrainians were not convinced.

“This needs an explanation,” wrote Tatiana Ivanchenko on Facebook. “If a man wants to go to the neighbouring area for one day to see his family, he needs to stand in line and get a permit?”

Others said a travel permit system would be open to abuse and bribe-taking by officials. Corruption is considered rampant in Ukraine.

“Do you want to go to your mother-in-law? Do you want to go to the neighbouring city, to your cottage? Then that will be 1,000 bucks,” wrote Oxana Kot sarcastically.

Mr Zelensky was a professional comedian before he won a presidential election in 2019 and has an instinctive populist touch, sympathetic to the frustrations of ordinary Ukrainians who are renowned for their distrust of authority.

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Within a few hours of Mr Zelensky’s stinging criticism, Gen Zaluzhnyi had scrapped his plans.

Although praised for its dogged resistance, the Ukrainian army is taking a huge number of casualties, which it needs to replace, and is getting pushed back along the main front line in the eastern Donbas.

Analysts have said Ukraine is taking as many as 200 casualties a day, underscoring the deadly nature of the fighting in Donbas.

Russia says Ukraine has suffered around 20,000 casualties in total, although Ukrainian officials have said the number is far smaller.

Russian shelling killed at least eight civilians in eastern Ukraine over the previous 24 hours and wounded 25 more, Ukrainian officials said yesterday. Pro-Russia separatists said attacks by Ukrainian forces killed four civilians.

The Ukrainian presidential office said Russian forces targeted cities and villages in the country’s southeast, with most civilian casualties occurring in Donetsk province, where Russia stepped up its offensive in recent days.

The province’s governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in a Telegram post that two people died in the city of Avdiivka, which is located in the centre of the province, and the Donetsk cities of Sloviansk, Krasnohorivka and Kurakhove each reported one civilian killed.

“Every crime will be punished,” he wrote.

Mr Kyrylenko urged the province’s more than 350,000 remaining residents to flee late on Tuesday, saying evacuating Donetsk was necessary to save lives and allow the Ukrainian army to put up a better defence against the Russian advance.

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Monday declared the complete seizure of the region’s other province, Lu- hansk, after Ukrainian troops withdrew from the last city under their country.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai denied yesterday that the Russians had captured the province.

Heavy fighting continued in villages around Lysychansk, the city Ukrainian soldiers withdrew from and which Russian troops took on Sunday.

“The Russians have paid a high price, but the Luhansk region is not fully captured by the Russian army,” Mr Haidai said.

“Some settlements have been overrun by each side several times already.”

He accused Russian forces of scorched earth tactics, “burning down and destroying everything on their way”.

Up to 15,000 residents remain in Lysychansk and around 8,000 in the nearby city of Sievierodonetsk, which Russian and separatist fighters seized last month, Mr Haidai said.

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