on Sunday 26 June, 2022

Disillusionment Creeps In For Ukraine Volunteers Amid Combat Brutality

by : AFP

Foreign fighters who have joined Ukrainian forces battling Russia's invasion have been shocked by the brutality of the war and some say that disillusionment is creeping in.

"They fought in Afghanistan or in Iraq and say they aren't ready" for what they face in Ukraine, says Polak, of his Western comrades who have signed up to fight.

Polak -- whose nationality AFP is withholding to protect his anonymity -- estimates there are "perhaps several hundred" foreign fighters who have taken up arms for Kyiv since the invasion began on February 24.

"Honestly, we have quite a few cowards" serving in the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine, he says, speaking to AFP at a supermarket cafe at Kramatorsk in the eastern Donbas region to which Russia lays claim.

"Sometimes after the first fighting exchanges they will say, 'we aren't prepared for that' and they go home," says Polak, as he offers a rare insight into the experiences of foreign citizens who have joined up.

He indicates a wide mix of nationalities in the Legion -- "Canadians, Georgians, Croatians," he says.

But, they have not been trained to fight in a war involving artillery attack.

"Elon Musk, if you can hear me -- we need help!"

That was the plea to the billionaire entrepreneur, the world's richest man, on Friday from a former American GI serving in the northern city of Kharkiv at a press conference.

The reality of what they are up against has been thrown into stark relief with the recent deaths of a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a German and an Australian.

Separatist pro-Russian authorities have also handed down death sentences to two Britons and a Moroccan who have been fighting for Ukraine and have appealed the verdicts.

In early June, Russia reported its forces had killed "hundreds" of foreign combatants in Ukraine since the start of the invasion of its neighbour, a situation which looks to have starkly reduced the flow of arrivals.

Legion spokesman, Damien Magrou, 33, from France, concedes that many of the fighters, often hailing from NATO member states, are taken aback by the brutality of the combat theatre.

"An American who has been through six wars told me it was the worst he had seen," says Magrou.

"Missiles, bombardments: on the ground it's very different to what they might have expected."

As a result, between 10 and 30 percent of recruits head back to civilian life having barely arrived on the battlefield, he adds, despite experience in weapons handling being a prerequisite.

"Almost all participants are former soldiers, a third of them coming from an English-speaking country," he says. English is indeed the language of communication.

The remainder come from a variety of states -- mainly in central or eastern Europe -- and are in Ukraine for different reasons.

"The Americans are fighting for freedom and western values, whereas the Poles say they want to defend Ukraine in that that is also defending their country," says Magrou.

Though they have all signed a contract with Ukrainian forces, they are all free to leave at any time.

"I wanted to come here when I saw the pictures on TV," says Mika, a German interviewed by AFP in Kharkiv.

"As I have been in the armed forces I thought I could help. If we do not stop the aggressor in Ukraine, he is going to invade one country after another," he adds.

The legal situation surrounding the activities of the combatants varies from country to country, with some "risking legal action," notes Magrou, in states including Italy or South Korea.

Britain has also advised British soldiersand veterans against participating in the conflict.

Magrou's own case is a little different -- he had spent two years working for a law firm in Kyiv, hence the war came to him rather than vice-versa.

As he talks with AFP, clad in military fatigues and speaking in French but brandishing a Ukrainian flag, an elderly lady waves as she walks down a central Kyiv street.

"We are much appreciated by Ukrainian civilians who offer us food and thank us for our engagement," he notes.

Women are few and far between in this foreign legion.

But to mark International Women's Day in March, some fighters rustled up flowers and chocolate for a Norwegian woman serving at the front in the Kyiv suburb, Irpin.

Even a chicken has joined up.

"She survived a bombardment and has attached herself to a regiment which lugs her around everywhere since," says a regimental spokesman.