Foreign Volunteers Under Fire in Ukraine

Moscow has repeatedly issued warnings to foreign volunteers planning to fight for Ukraine, informing them that they will be classed as mercenaries and given especially ruthless treatment. The Russians have emphasized that point by obliterating the main base hosting and training international volunteers in western Ukraine. Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian military base in a night attack, reducing much of it to rubble and causing heavy casualties.

Russia targets international volunteers

The base at Yavoriv, located only 12 miles from the Polish border, was hosting most of the foreigners intending to join Ukraine’s new international legion.

Strangely, there seems to have been no attempt to disguise the location of training for these volunteers; this information was apparently given out freely, possibly because a strike so close to the border was thought to be impossible.

Russia was thus very aware of the base, which has previously hosted NATO trainers working with the Ukrainian military. Moscow may have waited to strike until a significant number of foreigners had arrived.

The legal status of individuals fighting for a foreign military can be somewhat complicated, but Russia has made it clear that it intends to treat foreigners fighting for Ukraine as mercenaries who are not protected by international law.

The Kremlin, however, has not shied away from taking on foreign mercenaries or volunteers to fight in Ukraine; most of these will be Syrians who fought with the Russians against ISIS and other rebel groups in that country’s civil war.

The Westerners planning to join the Ukrainians have been a mix of experienced former soldiers and enthusiastic but unprepared novices.

Second thoughts

Russia’s strike was intended to snuff out further interest before more volunteers show up. It certainly worked; the future of Ukraine’s international legion is now somewhat unclear.

Ukrainian officials denied Russia’s claim that 180 foreigners had been killed in the strike and claimed that the international force was actually unscathed.

Individuals who claim to have survived the barrage say that the attack was devastating enough to convince even combat veterans to quit and head for the border.

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have experienced fighting in Ukraine have noted that their previous experiences were no preparation for being at the mercy of Russian firepower.

Volunteers going to Ukraine will be aware that death is a possibility, but they may not have previously been aware that it is more likely a probability given the special treatment the Russians intend to give them.

For those who know the dangers and accept the risks, the Ukrainians are still recruiting for their international legion. For the rest, there will be no shortage of opportunities to help in other ways by assisting the millions of refugees who have fled from the fighting.

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