American Stuck in Ukraine Because of Ban on Military-Age Men Leaving Country

A Ukrainian law banning military-aged men from leaving the country amid the Russian invasion is preventing an American citizen from returning home to Florida.

After the invasion began in February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered male Ukrainian citizens between the ages of 18 and 60, considered to be of military age, to remain in the country in case of a mandatory draft, a rule that will remain in place as long as martial law is declared.

The law has left 21-year-old Myroslav Boitchouk, who is from the United States, stuck in Ukraine.

Boitchouk first traveled to Ukraine to go to medical school as a foreign exchange student, his brother Volodymyr Boitchouk said in a phone interview with Newsweek. But after about a year in school, a Ukrainian official learned that both of his parents are Ukrainian and ruled he could not stay as a foreign student.

The Ukrainian official threatened to deport Boitchouk unless he pay several thousands dollars to "make it go away," Volodymyr Boitchouk said. His family paid the money, and Boitchouk received a Ukrainian passport.

The last time Myroslav Boitchouk returned to Ukraine, he used his Ukrainian passport—not his American one. At the time, his family did not think this would become a problem.

But when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, Boitchouk quickly made plans to return to the United States by exiting Ukraine into Hungary. When he reached the border crossing, however, he used his American passport to leave.

But Ukrainian authorities would not let him through because he did not have a stamp on his American passport showing that he entered Ukraine.

His family quickly began efforts to bring him home—calling the Department of State, local lawmakers and embassies. But so far, there has been little progress, Volodymyr Boitchouk said.

He added that even if a mandatory draft were instituted, his brother would be of little help since he has asthma.

"He actually went to offer to volunteer within the city of Ivano-Frankivsk because they had more than enough able-bodied volunteers and frankly didn't need somebody who was liable to get in the way," Volodymyr Boitchouk said.

As the war has continued, his brother has left his apartment in Ivano-Frankivsk for the safer countryside, where he has extended family, though communication has been reduced by a spotty internet connection.

"There's not been much to do in the city besides stay in his apartment—like most people, staying in the apartment and hoping the next time the air raid sirens go off, the Russians don't miss, as they've been known to do in other cities with tragic consequences," he said referencing the student housing and hospitals hit by Russians.

He described the experience as "very stressful," noting he has lost "quite a bit of sleep" and fallen behind in his studies at the University of Florida, where he studies law, while trying to help return his brother home.

Volodymyr Boitchouk said he fears if Russians take the city, his brother could be taken hostage and become possibly become a "liability for Ukraine and the United States."

"It's more than just I want my brother home. It's more than just the fact he's my brother; he's my friend and I want him here safe," he said.

In a statement to Newsweek, a U.S. Department of State spokesperson wrote that the department has "no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas" and that U.S. citizens holding dual nationality may be subject to mandatory military service in a foreign country but did not comment specifically on Boitchouk's case.

The war has so far left widespread devastation in Ukraine, even as many Ukrainian citizens continue to fight back. Millions of Ukrainian citizens have been forced to flee the country to escape the war. Of those, more than 2 million have crossed the border into neighboring country Poland. More than six million others are displaced within Ukraine.

"This is another tragic milestone for the people of Ukraine and it has been achieved in just under one month," UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said during a briefing.

Update 03/22/2022 5:49 p.m.: This article was updated with interview with Volodymyr Boitchouk and statement from Department of State.

Myroslav Boitchouk stuck in Ukraine
A Ukrainian law banning military-aged men from leaving the country amid the Russian invasion is preventing 22-year-old American citizen Myroslav Boitchouk from returning home. Above, a refugee is seen carrying a Ukrainian passport in Poland on Sunday. WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP via Getty Images