In this Ukrainian village, there are almost no men left

MAKIV, Ukraine — There are not many men of fighting age left in this village in southwestern Ukraine, and those who remain fear they could be drafted into the army at any time.

Their neighbors were already in frontline trenches hundreds of miles to the east. Some people were killed or injured. Several are missing. Others from this rural area, about 45 miles from the border with Romania and Moldova, have fled abroad or found ways to avoid the war, either through legal exemptions or by hiding.

“That’s what it is,” said Larysa Bodna, deputy superintendent of local schools, which maintains a database of students whose parents have been deployed. “Most of them are gone.”

Ukraine desperately needs more troops, its forces depleted by casualties and exhaustion. Despite Russia’s own heavy casualties, the invaders still far outnumber Ukraine’s defenders, an advantage that is helping Moscow make gains on the battlefield. Ukraine’s parliament is debating a bill to expand the conscription pool, in part by lowering the age from 27 to 25, but Kyiv has made few decisions that would quickly meet the army’s pressing needs.

Common people here say this means Recruiters are recruiting everyone they can. In the west, the mobilization campaign has continued to sow fear and resentment in farming towns and villages such as Markif, where residents said soldiers working for recruitment offices wandered near-empty streets looking for survivors. This tactic has led some to believe that their personnel are being targeted disproportionately compared to other regions or large cities such as Kiev, where it is easier to hide.

Locals used Telegram channels to warn soldiers of the sightings and shared videos of troops forcing men into vehicles, sparking kidnapping rumors. Some men are serving time in prison for refusing to sign up.

“People are being caught like dogs in the street,” said Olha Kametyuk, 35, whose husband, Valentin, 36, enlisted in the army in June. After stopping for coffee on the main road outside Makiv, I approached him and asked for his papers. . Despite being diagnosed with osteochondrosis, a joint disease, he passed the medical examination within 10 minutes and was deployed to the front line, where he was injured, she said.

“The whole village was taken over like this,” said Valentin’s 61-year-old mother, Natalya Koshparenko.

“Almost all of us have been eliminated,” said Serhii, 47, an infantryman from Markiv who enlisted in March 2022 to serve in Ukraine’s 115th Brigade.

Serhi, who returned home for a short break this month for the first time in a year, said he had been stopped and questioned. The same goes for his son, who is only 22 and not yet eligible to be drafted into the army. The Post only mentioned Serhii by name because of the risk of adverse consequences.

He said that when soldiers realized he had served, they asked him how he felt about those who had “never seen a day of war” — something he said he viewed as a forced, empty show of camaraderie. He replied that it was them, not his fellow villagers, that he resented most, Serhi said.

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“You’re a soldier and I’m a civilian, but I’m at war and you’re not,” he said. He noted that the conversation “ended immediately.”

Last year, Oleksii, 30, was repairing his car when a soldier approached and handed him a draft order. It was Valentine’s Day and the news reached his girlfriend, Elvira, who worked in a small shop in Markif and barely ate for weeks. Oleksi accepted his fate, but his experience served as a warning to others about the realities on the front lines.

Olexi recently returned home after suffering three concussions and shrapnel injuries. He opened his phone and showed a photo of himself and a dozen comrades. Only two are still alive, he said.

This month, villagers in Markiv buried another of their own, Ihor Dozorets, a contract soldier who was so badly wounded that his son, also a soldier, could only Identify him by the scars on his hands. “He wanted to go home,” Ihor’s sister, Inna Melnyk, 43, said through tears. “He’s tired of it all. But what can we do?”

Vasyl Hrebeniuk, 70, said that even at his age – 10 years beyond the deadline for conscription – soldiers often stopped him in Markiv and questioned him.

Six weeks ago, he saw soldiers knocking on a neighbor’s door, complaining that the man who lived there asked to say goodbye to his wife and mother, then disappeared. One soldier said they “should take him immediately, put him in the car and drive away,” Hrebeniuk recalled.

Scenes like this make 16-year-old Polina – one of the few men in her village eligible for conscription – worry about how long she will be able to stay with her father.

Last summer, Polina and her friend Olha were relaxing at a table outside the village shop when Olha’s dad called and asked her to go there and buy him something. She declined his request, saying she was busy with her friends. He walked to the store on his own, and teenagers watched in horror as soldiers surrounded him and handed him a summons as he entered.

He’s been on active duty ever since – and his daughter blames herself. “Olha thought it was her fault,” Polina said.

Tetiana Lychak, 32, was a teacher at a local school whose husband died on the front line in late 2022. Lechak said her son, Max, who is just 5 years old, has talked about joining the military, and she wondered if he, too, should take a turn. One of her colleagues, a teacher who taught high school students basic army drills as part of a “Protect Ukraine” course, has been deployed. Three students in his class have fathers serving in the military.

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Maya Proskurivska, 63, hid the truth about her son-in-law Oleksandr, 41, from his children, ages 8 and 14. Oleksandr was sent to fight in the Donetsk region and had been missing since December, but the children believed he was identified as a prisoner of war, she said. These days, she said, “it’s hard to find young people on our streets.”

On a cold afternoon this month, 4-year-old Eleanora Voropanova rode her tricycle up and down the quiet road outside her home. When asked if her parents were home, she paused. “Mom is at home,” she replied. “Dad is at war.”

Her mother Tanya, 42, opened the door. Inside, her nephew Bohdan, 25, and his friend Artem, also 25, were struggling to chop wood in the yard.

It has been 16 months since Tanya last heard from her husband Serhii. Her husband Serhii joined the army in March 2022 and disappeared during fighting in November of that year. At that time, a comrade called her to tell her that he had two latest news. “First of all, he’s not among the dead,” she remembers him saying. “The second is that he is not among the living.”

She has been living in limbo ever since, raising her two daughters, now 4 and 8, on her own. Her brother-in-law, Bohdan’s father, fled abroad for fear of joining the war – a decision she scorned.

“Some people are hiding at home and don’t even want to go to the store,” she said. “I saw a car today with a woman driving and the husband hiding behind a tinted window in the back.”

The young men who clean her yard admit they are afraid of the wind. But Artem said he was also unhappy with people from eastern Ukraine who came to the west to seek refuge instead of staying to fight. “They come here to hide and our people have to die there,” he said. Artem’s father was drafted into the army and is now fighting near the eastern city of Leman.

On the way from Markiv, in the small town of Kamenets-Podolski, an ever-expanding gallery dedicated to the dead occupies one of the main squares. Each photo shows the face of a local man or woman who died fighting for Ukraine.

On a recent morning, Lyuda Shydey stood in front of a portrait of her brother Serhiy Kozynyak and cried. Her brother Serhiy Kozynyak was killed in 2022 in Avdiivka, a city that fell to Russian forces last month. Shady has never been to eastern Ukraine but still dreams of one day walking barefoot across the site of his death.

“Dreams have to come true,” she said. “Otherwise, what’s the point of dreaming?”

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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