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Ukraine is putting pressure on fighting-age men outside the country as it tries to replenish forces

KYIV, Ukraine -

Even as it works to get much-needed new supplies of weapons and ammunition from a huge U.S. aid package to the front line, Ukraine is seeking to reverse the drain of potential soldiers from the country, announcing that men of conscription age will no longer be able to renew their passports from outside Ukraine.

The Cabinet of Ministers said late Wednesday that men between 18 and 60 years old who are deemed fit for military service will only be able to renew their passports inside Ukraine.

Millions of Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022, mostly to neighbouring European countries. The European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat, says 4.3 million Ukrainians are living in EU countries, 860,000 of them men 18 years of age or older.

The defence minister of Poland, home to one of the biggest Ukrainian diasporas, said the country was ready to help "in ensuring that those who are subject to compulsory military service go to Ukraine," though he did not specify how.

Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said "Ukrainian citizens have obligations towards the state."

The move has met with some criticism inside Ukraine. Opposition lawmaker Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze, who heads the Parliamentary Committee for Ukraine's European Integration, said denying military-age men access to consular services could lead to "well-founded" legal challenges at the European Court of Human Rights.

"I think that these actions will only push an enormous number of Ukrainians to look for different ways to obtain citizenship from other countries," she said.

Russia's population of almost 150 million dwarfs Ukraine's 38 million, and Moscow can draw on a much bigger army. Earlier this month, Ukraine lowered the conscription age from 27 to 25 in an effort to bolster the size of its military.

Oleksandr Pavlichenko, executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, said the measure was a violation of individual rights -- and also unlikely to succeed in getting Ukrainian men to return home from abroad.

"It's just an emotional step, not a legal one," he said. "It will not bring the results."

Ukraine is in need of fresh troops to bolster forces in the south and east, where Russia is pressing forward with its efforts to take ground from outnumbered and outgunned troops.

The U.S. is sending US$61 billion in new U.S. military aid, a lifeline for Kyiv's armed forces in their more than two-year war with Russia. President Joe Biden signed into law the aid package on Wednesday.

U.S. officials also confirmed Wednesday that the United States last month secretly sent Ukraine a number of long-range missiles that Kyiv has urgently sought so that its forces can hit Russian forces well behind the front lines. Ukraine used them for the first time last week to strike an airfield in occupied Crimea, the officials said.

The Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMs, have a range of some 300 kilometres (190 miles). More are expected to be sent to Ukraine as part of the new U.S. aid package.

Russia was dismissive of the weapons' likely impact.

"This will not fundamentally change the outcome of the special military operation. We will succeed. But it will cause more problems for Ukraine itself," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said "the key now is speed" in getting the supplies into place. Ukrainian forces have run desperately short of artillery ammunition and air defence missiles during six months in which the U.S. aid was held up by wrangling in Congress. That has allowed the Kremlin's forces to inch forward in parts of eastern Ukraine in what has largely become a war of attrition.

Ukraine's general staff said Thursday that the situation at the front remained "difficult."

Six people were injured in the Cherkasy region of central Ukraine on Thursday after a "high speed target" struck a critical infrastructure object, Regional Gov. Ihor Taburets said on social media. He said a rescue operation was underway.

Russian forces also targeted infrastructure in northern Ukraine, launching a guided aerial bomb on the city of Sumy. The Regional Military Administration said emergency services were responding to the attack and the impact of the strike was still being clarified.

In the eastern Kharkiv region, an attack near a railway station injured seven people, regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov, said on Telegram.

Britain's Treasury chief, on a visit to Kyiv, urged all NATO countries to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP to help Ukraine and "pile the pressure" on Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt said he told Zelenskyy during Wednesday's visit that the U.K. would maintain at least its current level of military support, some 3 billion pounds (US$3.8 billion) in 2024, for "as long as it takes."

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said this week his country's defence budget will increase to 2.5 per cent of GDP from its current level of just over 2 per cent by 2030. Sunak also announced 500 million pounds (US$625 million) in new aid for Ukraine -- including ammunition, vehicles, boats and 1,600 strike and air defence missiles.


Associated Press writers Susie Blann in Kyiv, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Emma Burrows in London contributed to this story. Top Stories

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