The leaders and concerned citizens around the world are correct: Russian aggression is illegitimate, and Ukraine is presently engaged in a just war of self-defense. 

My heart, like so many others, goes out to the millions of displaced Ukrainians whose country’s sovereignty has been flagrantly violated by Vladimir Putin and his forces.

One only has to casually survey the huge number of photos, videos, and audio recordings of Ukrainian solidarity, perseverance, and defensive exercise of force to be inspired.  

The Ukrainians who confront Russian soldiers are true defenders of liberty, whether they remove land mines, fight with weapons, or support the troops by making molotov cocktails. 

These are people who are protecting their lives, livelihoods and fellow countrymen from aggression.

It’s also important to recognize the bravery of the Russian people who have taken to the streets to protest the immoral actions of the Putin regime. And it’s just as important to consider the millions of Russians who live in fear of their own lives and liberty who have not managed to find a way to effect change. 

Remember – the people and their government are not the same thing.  

On the international level, it is clear that Russia is acting in an immoral way, and Ukraine has reacted in a justified and moral manner.

But on the national level, the moral situation is considerably more nuanced:

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demonstrated bravery by refusing to desert his fellow Ukranians. In contrast, under President Zelenskyy’s orders, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service has prohibited 18-to-60-year-old men from leaving the country. 

It is essential that one can and must recognize tyranny wherever and whenever it arises. It is true that Russian aggression is morally abominable. It is also true that President Zelenskyy forcibly conscripting certain Ukrainians to stay, fight, and potentially die is a violation of individual rights.

Disturbingly, President Zelenskyy’s mandatory conscription discriminates on the basis of sex and age. 

It is inarguable that military-age men are the demographic most helpful to effectively waging war on the frontlines. Yet, we have women in modern militaries across the globe, with many providing vital military services aside from frontline combat. 

Many women have decided to stay of their own accord, some on the frontline, others not, which begs the question — why this bizarre and arbitrary conscription policy?

However, by coercing young and middle-aged men to fight, President Zelenskyy has implied certain people’s rights are not absolute, but readily disposable in service of the “greater good” of the nation.

To those of us who believe that all individuals possess non-derogable negative rights, President Zelenskyy’s discriminatory and coercive conscription policy represents an immoral assault on liberty, individual rights, and equality before the law. 

The state’s right to self defense is legitimate only insofar as it is an expression of its citizens’ right to defend their persons and property. 

The state may not do away with the very individual rights it claims to express without doing away with its own illegitimacy.

If you would like to help the people of Ukraine, you can make a donation by clicking on the button below and checking the “Ukraine Crisis Emergency Campaign” box.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.