KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s controversial conscription law came into force Saturday as Kiev tries to expand its ranks to cope with a new Russian offensive that some fear could close in on the country’s second-largest city.

The legislation, which is a watered-down version of its original draft, will make it easier to identify all conscripts in the country. It also offers incentives to soldiers, such as cash bonuses or money to buy a house or car, something some analysts say the government cannot afford.

Lawmakers delayed approval of the text for months, until mid-April, a week after the lowering of the conscription age from 27 to 25. The measures reflect the growing pressure that more than two years of war with Russia has put on Ukrainian forces, which are trying to hold the front lines in fighting that has depleted their ranks and their stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.

The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, signed two other laws on Friday to allow inmates to enlist in the army and to increase fines fivefold for those who skip compulsory military service. Russia enlisted its inmates at the start of the invasion, and a shortage of troops has forced Ukraine to take further steps.

Meanwhile, Russian troops pressed ahead with a ground offensive that opened a new front in the northeastern region of Kharkiv and increased pressure on the overstretched Kiev army. After weeks of groping, Moscow launched the new campaign knowing that its rival had manpower problems and that in the north its forces were scattered.

Visiting China on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin’s goal in this offensive is to create “a security zone,” not to capture Kharkiv, the region’s capital and the country’s second-largest city.

But Moscow forces have shelled Kharkiv in recent weeks, hitting civilian and energy infrastructure that led Zelenskyy to accuse the Russian leadership of wanting to reduce the city to rubble. The mayor, Ihor Terekhov, reported Friday that Russian guided bombs killed at least three residents and wounded 28 others during the day.

Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, but thousands of people have been killed or injured in the more than 27 months of the war.

The United States announced a new $400 million military aid package to Ukraine last week, and its president, Joe Biden, has pledged to quickly send the weaponry needed to halt Russian advances. However, only small batches have been received at the front lines so far, according to Ukrainian military commanders, who said it will be at least two months before their needs are met.

Thousands of Ukrainians have fled the country to avoid conscription since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022, many of them endangering their lives by swimming across the river that separates Ukraine from neighboring Romania and Hungary.

On Friday night, the Ukrainian border agency said at least 30 people have since died trying to cross the Tisza River.

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