At a rural penal colony in southeast Ukraine, several convicts stand assembled under barbed wire to hear an army recruiter offer them a shot at parole. In return, they must join the gruelling fight against Russia.

“You can put an end to this and start a new life,” said the recruiter, a member of a volunteer assault battalion. “The main thing is your will, because you are going to defend the motherland. You won’t succeed at 50 per cent, you have to give 100 per cent of yourself, even 150 per cent.”

Ukraine is expanding the draft to cope with acute battlefield shortages more than two years into fighting against Russia’s full-scale invasion. And its recruiting efforts have turned, for the first time, to the country’s prison population.

More than 3,000 prisoners already have been released on parole and assigned to military units after such recruitment was approved by parliament in a controversial mobilisation bill last month, Ukrainian Deputy Justice Minister Olena Vysotska told The Associated Press.

About 27,000 inmates could potentially be eligible for the new programme, according to Justice Ministry estimates.

No. of inmates potentially eligible for release

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