The first foreign fighters have arrived in Ukraine amid heavy Russian bombardment and are on the battlefield, Ukraine military officials tell Military Times.
This marks the first time the unit has been used, Ukraine Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of that nation’s defense intelligence agency, told Military Times Monday afternoon.
Late last month, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy created “The International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine,” as a global appeal for foreigners to come to the aid of his country.
“The first groups are already in the battlefield,” said another Ukraine official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to explain the situation. “A new group goes to the combat area every day.”
They have arrived from the U.S., U.K., Sweden, Lithuania, Mexico, India and other countries, said the official.
The official did not know all the tasks they are performing, but said some are defending Kyiv.
“It is difficult to speak with them as they are in the combat area,” the official said, estimating that worldwide, about 20,000 people have expressed interest in volunteering. Last week, a Ukrainian defense official in Washington D.C. said about 3,000 Americans expressed interest, including many veterans.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby urged Americans to stay home.
“I don’t have an estimate of Americans who might want to be volunteering to go there,” he said. “I would say what I said last week, if you’re an American and you want to do right by Ukraine, the best thing you can do is find a way to donate to so many agencies that are trying to deal with what is now clearly a humanitarian crisis in the region, and certainly there in Ukraine. We still do not believe that Ukraine is a safe place for Americans to go. We urge them not to go and if any are still there, we urge them to leave.”
The U.S. State Department also recommends citizens not travel to Ukraine.
Russia’s war on Ukraine, now in its 12th day, has seen the invading forces slowed, but Ukraine’s cities are experiencing a devastating barrage of aircraft and missile strikes. This is an effort to help shore up Ukrainian forces.
No volunteers will be allowed to bring their own weapons, a Ukrainian official told Military Times last week. Those who fight will be issued at least rifles, he added. He would not comment on whether they will be issued other types of weapons.
Ukraine officials stress to Military Times that they are looking for foreign volunteers with combat experience who require little training before being armed and sent to the front line.
The instructions for joining the legion require “documents confirming military service or work with law enforcement agencies and participation in combat.”
“We are asking for trained people to come,” said the official in Ukraine. “We don’t have time for training.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.