May 4th, 2022, 01:00 PM

"Welcome to America" - The Ukrainian Foreign Legion

By Liam Williams
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons - SPC Joshua Leonard
Volunteers from around the world flock to join the fight against Russia's invasion.

“Welcome to America." This is not a phrase one would expect to hear in Ukraine, especially considering the country is about five-thousand miles from the East Coast of the United States. It was, however, said by American Volunteers in a video showing the aftermath of a fight with a Russian tank.

Who are these Americans fighting for Ukraine? Well the first thing to clarify is that they're not just Americans. People from all over the world have joined a new unit of the Ukrainian armed forces, the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine, known colloquially as the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. The idea is certainly not new though.

Foreigners fighting in other people's wars is a tale as old as time. Whether it be hired German mercenaries in the American Revolution, George Orwell fighting in the Spanish Civil War, or the modern day French Foreign Legion.

Volunteers join for a variety of reasons. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Chinese American Yi Qiwei described how and why he joined, “I originally came [to Europe] to dance [at] the Tomorrowland Winter music festival in France. I wanted to take advantage of the spring break to come out and have a good time.”

“I have had a dream of being a soldier since I was a child, so there's that. Secondly, I wanted to be able to come back alive and show my daughter her handsome father who has been on the battlefield” Qiwei said. 

Once he arrived in Ukraine, he described the visceral human impact of the war “A lot of the kids are around the same age as my daughter. They're so young, and they're sleeping in a train station, sleeping in McDonalds, and in such cold weather. It's really pitiful.” His idealistic view of war was shattered once experienced with his own eyes.

Volunteer Igor Gavrylko, a Ukrainian immigrant to Britain joined simply to defend his homeland, “He wants to rebuild the Soviet Union as part of a Russian empire. It’s no secret.” 

Candidates should have combat experience, contact their local Ukrainian embassy, bring some of their own equipment, and be ready to sign a contract to formally enlist until martial law ends. The government created a clean and simple website that lays out the instructions,

Over one month after the war’s start, are they making a difference? It’s hard to truly say what the effect would be if they were not there, and there is little evidence of some critical magic importance, but that's not how wars work. Every bit of manpower is important to the effort.

Like the French Foreign Legion, the Ukrainian Foreign Legion will likely be part of the common mythology and remembrance of the war.