Details 13:58 26 Apr 2024

Ukraine suspends consular services for men of conscription age abroad: why and for how long?

Ukrainian men of conscription age abroad have been restricted in their access to consular services. These restrictions were initially expected to come into effect on May 18, following the implementation of a new law on mobilization. However, the services have been suspended earlier than anticipated. Rubryka provides an explanation for this, citing information from Ukraine's foreign ministry.

What is the problem?

On the evening of April 22, Ukrainian media outlet Mirror of the Week published information that, starting the next day, all Ukrainian consulates would stop providing services to men of conscription age, referring to a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"To prevent Ukrainian citizens from evading the obligation to settle the issue of military registration by territorial centers of staffing and social support and the availability of military registration documents, I instruct to temporarily suspend consular actions on applications of male citizens of Ukraine aged 18 to 60 from 04.23.2024," reads a fragment of this letter.

This information was confirmed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, on the morning of April 23. In his post on the X (Twitter), he emphasized that protecting the rights and interests of Ukrainian citizens abroad was and remains a priority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. However, staying abroad does not release a citizen from his duties to the motherland, he added, referring to the martial law and the obligation of all men aged 18 to 60 to abide by it. 

As of the beginning of 2024, Eurostat reported that around 4.3 million Ukrainians resided in the European Union, with approximately 860,000 being adult men. Currently, Ukrainian law prohibits men of conscription age from crossing the border, except under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, some left Ukraine well before the war, others had specific reasons for allowing them to cross, while a few may have used corrupt methods to exit the country. However, they are still liable for conscription, with only a few exceptions.

"As it looks like now, a man of conscription age goes abroad and shows his state that he does not care about its survival. He then comes back and wants to receive services from this state. It does not work this way. Our country is at war," Kuleba commented.

Such actions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs caused heated discussions on social media and criticism among Ukrainian citizens abroad. Most of the criticism is related to legality since Ukrainian law does not provide for such restrictions. No current law allows depriving Ukrainian citizens of consular support. However, the new law on mobilization, adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on April 11 and signed by the President of Ukraine on April 16, does. It will enter into force only a month after its publication, on May 18.

Обмеження консульських послуг за кордоном

Illustrative photo: Visit Ukraine

According to the new law, such sanctions will be applied to men of draft age who are abroad and have not updated their data in the military commissariats. However, there is no mechanism to do so abroad yet. 

Ukrainian citizens abroad now find themselves in a situation where some of their rights have been limited, based on a law that is not yet in force, without creating an opportunity to be law-abiding and avoid punishment.

The US State Department called such a decision a "difficult issue," RFE/RL reports. At the same time, Germany noted that they will extend temporary residence permits even with an invalid passport, reports DW.

"I have no specific comments regarding the Directive on temporary protection (the document regulates the stay of immigrants from Ukraine on the territory of the EU,—ed.). We do not distinguish between gender and enlistment status. That's all I have to say," said Anita Hipper, spokeswoman for the European Commission for Internal Affairs, Migration and Internal Security, answering RFE/RL's questions.

At the same time, some neighboring countries take the opposite position. In particular, Polish Minister of Defense Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysh said that they are ready to help Ukraine return men of conscription age. Such a possibility is also being considered in Lithuania, although specific mechanisms are not yet being considered. 

"Of course, no one will gather them and take them to Ukraine—this will not happen. But [these persons can be limited] in terms of social benefits, work permits, and documents—these are options that I hear from the Polish side as well. So let's wait and see what option they will offer. Maybe it will be suitable for Lithuania as well," Delfi quotes Lithuanian Defense Minister Laurinas Kaščiūnas.

What is the solution?

Before we dive into all the changes, envisaged by the new law, Rubryka explains how the consulates used to work before. The main task of consulates is to protect and help citizens of their country abroad. This is how they differ from embassies, which work specifically on diplomatic relations between countries. Consular services usually provide the following services:

  • Obtaining or extending the validity of a passport, visa, or other document.
  • Advising on a number of issues related to the rules of stay in another country.
  • Notarizing documents or their translations.
  • Registering the birth of a child and resolving the issue of their passport and citizenship.
  • In case of crises, such as the beginning of hostilities or natural disasters, organizing the evacuation of their citizens.

Rubryka explains what has changed in the provision of consular services for men of the conscription age and the "interpretation" of Ukraine's foreign ministry.

How does it work?

According to Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

As of April 23, 2024, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suspended consular services for men aged 18 to 60. Currently, they can only issue an identity card for them to return to Ukraine. This document confirms Ukrainian citizenship and gives the right to enter Ukraine.

"We emphasize that the decision to suspend the process of providing consular services to a category of Ukrainian citizens defined by law is a temporary step due to the need to resolve issues regarding the military registration of citizens of draft age who are abroad," explained at the ministry.

However, there are some exceptions. Consular services can be used now if their actual recipient is not the applicant himself but his minor child or ward. That is, a man of conscription age can get a foreign passport for a ward or register the birth of a child.

At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that the consulates will consider and fully process all applications submitted by April 23, 2024, particularly those related to the issuance of a foreign passport for a Ukrainian citizen. Consuls will also help men of draft age in case of emergency.

"If any citizen of Ukraine falls into an emergency abroad (road accident, detention, natural disasters, etc.), employees of the consular service will provide the necessary consular assistance in full within the limits of the legislation," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented.

The ministry also confirmed that the adoption of the mobilization law caused such a decision. Although it has not yet entered into force, it provides such punishments for men of conscription age who have not updated their data in the military commissariats.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains that men of conscription age are now being refused consular services, as the time for considering their applications may exceed the time before the law enters into force. Therefore, they seek to protect citizens from situations where the ordered service cannot be provided.

Обмеження консульських послуг за кордоном

Ukaine's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba. Photo: Facebook

The ministry is currently updating the by-laws that regulate the work of the Ukrainian consular service following the new requirements. After May 18, when the mobilization law comes into force, consular services will again be available to men of draft age, but only for those who have updated their data.

Currently, there is no mechanism to enter new data into the electronic register of conscripts. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the involved state bodies define and coordinate it. When it appears, the ministry promises to publish additional clarifications. Until the mechanism appears and the law enters into force, men of the conscription age cannot use consular services.

At the same time, consulates are not the only way to obtain documents while abroad. This can also be done in the state enterprise Document branches. However, on April 23, it was reported that the issuance of ready-made documents in foreign divisions had been suspended due to technical reasons.

Subsequently, a relevant resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine was published regarding changes in the procedure for issuing passports to Ukrainian citizens for travel abroad, which prohibits issuing ready-made documents in foreign branches to men of conscription age.

As a result, on April 24, about 300 people blocked the passport service in Warsaw. The Polish media outlet Rzeczpospolita writes that the men were first informed that their documents were ready and then were refused the issuance, citing a technical failure of the system.

It is currently unknown how the story with the state-owned enterprise Document will develop, as there are no comments on when ready-made documents will be issued again. This process will likely be similar to the renewal of consular services.


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