Russo-Ukrainian War 5/19/22

A checkpoint at Yavoriv airbase, Lviv, in 2008 (Image via WikiMedia)

There is a stark difference between the wars many veterans have fought for and the War in Ukraine. In particular, Russia has overwhelming artillery and airpower to bring to bear, despite their losses. Comparably, ground units, particularly foreign volunteers, cannot get the support they are used to. This is no War on Terror, where Western fighters could rely on the insurmountable firepower of the USAF. Despite Russian claims that NATO special forces are fighting in Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly denied having any active-duty personnel in the country. If NATO personnel are fighting for Ukraine, active or not, they have certainly not been encountered in the many disproven propaganda tales of Russian units courageously killing scores of NATO servicemen.

Even before the war started, up to 30,000 people had joined online communities expressing interest in volunteering in Ukraine. However, the vast majority of these were untrained civilians, and when the war started, most did not show. In the first few days, a significant portion of foreign brigade volunteers was extremely underqualified; many joined as paramedics with no experience in a combat zone, where treatment differs significantly from the civilian field. Others had even less experience: two days after the announcement, reports emerged of a young British boy who, by the time his parents had realized he was missing, had crossed the border into Ukraine. The boy, 19, had no prior military experience and returned to Ukraine after the strike on Yavoriv airbase. Many foreign fighters with previous ‘war-tourism’ experience in the Middle East were described as erratic by journalists. Many were returned following the initial wave of volunteers as Ukraine tightened its service requirements.

Plenty of famous fighters have gone to Ukraine, only to subsequently leave disillusioned. Among them is famed Canadian sniper ‘Wali.’ Dodging death several times, he was reported as killed by Russian forces several times but managed to return to Canada. Though he continued to express his support for Ukraine and the war effort, he shared concerns regarding the lack of supplies and language barrier, leaving Ukraine thinking he could’ve done more with better equipment. With him fights a Norwegian Sámi member of parliament, a former Georgian politician previously charged with extortion and money-laundering, and MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance, who has served previously in Iraq. Others have not been so confident. After the initial Russian attack on Yavoriv airbase, where it was believed Russia made use of hypersonic missiles, many volunteers expressed serious safety concerns and have since left and called on others to reconsider.

Historically, foreign legions have never been a. Somewhat of a partisan force, successful foreign brigades have resulted from significant attrition and battle-hardened experience in conditions the host country’s national army is not in the position to fight. The Spanish Republic’s foreign legions went through hell throughout the defeat of the Spanish Republic, while the French Foreign Legion today is typically sent to the world’s most brutal battlegrounds. Although NATO-trained ex-special forces are certainly force-multipliers compared to Ukrainian troops, the lack of the resources they typically make use of blunts their effectiveness.

Ukraine’s most resilient international brigades have, unsurprisingly, come from nations Russia has terrorized in the past. The Georgian Legion, the Kastús Kalinoŭski Battalion (representing Belarus), the Sheikh Mansur Battalion (representing Free Chechnya), and even the Freedom of Russia Legion, made up of Russian volunteers, including members recruited from Russia’s armed forces. Many of these groups are built upon the idea that they could one day return to their respective countries to carry on the struggle, hence seeing Ukraine’s continued independence as crucial to their cause.

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