Foreigners could soon serve in the Ukrainian military after the parliament in Kiev passed a draft law Tuesday, local media reported. The vote comes as Ukrainian forces have started to withdraw light artillery from the frontline in the rebellious east.
The bill still needs another approval in the Rada, the parliament, and President Petro Poroshenko's signature. It would let foreigners serve in the armed forces without becoming citizens of Ukraine. If foreigners who serve want to become citizens, they would be eligible to do so after living in the country for three years instead of five. Foreigners serving in the Ukrainian armed forces would also be eligible for social benefits, local media reported. The bill also increases the penalty for financing mercenaries in armed conflicts, Ukraine Today reported.
The war in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass started in the spring of 2014, pitting government forces against Russian-backed separatists. More than 8,000 people have been killed in the war and 1.4 million displaced, according to the United Nations. Russia has continued to deny any direct military involvement in the conflict.
Volunteer battalions have played a large role in the battle, with citizens of Georgia and Russia fighting on the Ukrainian side, International Business Times previously reported. Those foreign volunteers have complained about their unclear status.
“We are fighting for nothing; we live from the handouts of local Ukrainians sympathetic to our mission against Russia,” said Mamuka Mamulashvili, a Georgian fighter.
Ukraine adopted a military doctrine last month officially designating Russia as its primary enemy. The doctrine also “states the task of relocating military units and creating the necessary military infrastructure in the eastern and southern regions.”
Poroshenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Paris. The two leaders have agreed to continue working on the Minsk II peace agreement, which was signed in February. Tensions between the neighboring states have continued, with Poroshenko telling the United Nations General Assembly last week that Ukraine was a victim of “external aggression.”