Zelensky asks Ukrainians abroad to ‘come home’

Those who have fled are needed now to “rebuild” the country, has said

Vladimir Zelensky speaks at the 2024 Recovery Conference in Berlin, Germany, on June 11, 2024. ©  Getty Images / Sean Gallup

Ukraine’s Vladimir Zelensky has urged his compatriots to return home without waiting for the end of the conflict with Russia, saying the country needs additional workforce to be “rebuilt.”

Zelensky made the remarks on Tuesday during a press conference amid a so-called Ukraine Recovery Conference hosted by Germany in Berlin. The event is a follow-up to a similar gathering held in London a year ago.

The conference, which is primarily aimed at luring private investors into the Ukrainian reconstruction endeavor, was marred by the resignation of a top reconstruction official, Mustafa Nayyem, right before it kicked off on Monday.

Nayyem, who headed the State Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development, blamed his departure on “constant opposition, resistance and the creation of artificial obstacles” by Prime Minister Denis Shmygal, according to his resignation letter, seen by the Financial Times.

Zelensky, however, painted an optimistic picture of the upcoming post-conflict reconstruction, claiming “everyone will come to rebuild our country,” which, he said, will be booming with “employment and security.”

READ MORE: Ukraine no longer allowing dual citizens to leave

“There are areas that need to be worked-on today already. There are people who are left without homes. They need help, they need workers. These professions are needed. We lost a lot of people who lost their profession because of the war, some went abroad. We are all for Ukrainians to come from abroad now,” Zelensky proclaimed.

It’s unclear whether Ukrainian refugees will actually heed the call, given that the Ukrainian leadership has already made significant efforts to force Ukrainians who fled to return and be enlisted to the army, rather than offer them lucrative jobs.

Ukraine restricted travel for all military-aged men early in the conflict, embarking on an increasingly controversial mobilization drive. Numerous videos circulating online show Ukrainian enlistment officers raiding public transport, chasing potential recruits in the streets, even brawling with them.

READ MORE: Kiev metro complains of worker shortages due to conscription

The situation was further aggravated by a new mobilization bill enacted by Zelensky in April. The legislation lowered the conscription age from 27 to 25, while further simplifying draft procedures and greatly expanding the powers of enlistment officers.

The recruitment drive has also run into the issue of draft dodging, with those unwilling to serve trying to leave the country using any means. Dozens of dodgers perished while braving the waters of the Tisza River, a Ukraine border with Hungary and Romania, or freezing to death in border areas.

On Monday, a group of 32 dodgers reportedly fled Ukraine into Hungary. The group crashed through the border with an old Soviet GAZ-66 truck, disguised as an active-duty military vehicle with fake black number plates attached, imagery circulating online shows. Another instance of mass escape occurred on Tuesday, with a group of 18 dodgers driving a minibus to a remote location near the border with Hungary before ditching the vehicle, cutting through barriers and leaving Ukraine on foot.


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