Thousands of people from around the world have answered Ukraine’s call to arms and have traveled to the country to fight, with around 100 foreign nationals killed on the battlefield over the last year in addition to more than 1,000 wounded, the Washington Post reported.
In a series of interviews with foreign volunteers, the Post highlighted a range of different motivations driving the fighters. While some had found a new sense of purpose in Ukraine’s cause, others “seemed more interested in posing for Instagram than committing to the drudgery of trench warfare,” or were “too eager to live out fantasies from the Call of Duty video game.” A smaller number have “faced more serious allegations of theft or sexual assault,” or were fleeing legal trouble at home.
“There’s a part of me that’s doing it for the right reasons, and there’s part of me that’s doing it for the violence. It’s kind of a bit of both,” a British fighter told the outlet.
In the early months of the war, Kiev claimed tens of thousands of people had signed up to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, even creating a special website to draw in potential recruits. However, the Post noted that many fighters were deterred early on, as “the realities of the war unnerved many initial volunteers.” Citing unnamed “analysts and academics,” the outlet estimated that there are between 1,000 and 3,000 foreign fighters currently in Ukraine.
Moscow has offered its own figures for the number of foreign nationals on the battlefield, with the Defense Ministry claiming that nearly 7,000 people had rushed to join Ukraine’s ‘International Legion’ between February and June of 2022. Of those, it said around 2,000 had been killed and another 1,800 already left the country. Those stats remain unconfirmed.
Some fighters spoke of being sent on “suicide missions” by their Ukrainian commanders, with one unnamed Canadian volunteer saying a fellow countryman was killed during such an operation. The military vet spoke on condition of anonymity due to “fear of retribution by the Ukrainian government,” and went on to express “frustration that the Ukrainian forces were not better prepared.”
According to Kacper Rekawek, a researcher at the Center for Research on Extremism, at least 100 foreign fighters have been killed in Ukraine and over 1,000 have been wounded. In March, the Post reported that thousands of fighters had already arrived in the country, warning that many held a “shared vision for an ultranationalist ethno-state.”
Ukraine’s International Legion is now facing a major scandal surrounding its spokeswoman, Emese Fajk, who allegedly committed fraud in Australia before fleeing to Ukraine and is currently under investigation by Kiev’s intelligence agency for stealing millions of dollars in medical supplies intended for the foreign fighters, according to the Daily Mail. Though Fajk denies the allegations, the stolen aid was said to include “large quantities of painkillers like fentanyl, lidocaine, and ketamine, along with more common medications.”