Russia’s brutal war of aggression has prompted many foreigners to voluntarily support Ukraine in its fight against the aggressor. One says: “An American told me that was the worst thing he had ever seen.”

They have fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, and yet many volunteer foreign fighters are shocked by the brutality of the Ukraine war. “Sometimes after the first skirmishes they say: ‘We are not prepared for that’ and go home,” says Polak. He is one of the volunteers and talks about his experiences in the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine in a supermarket cafĂ© in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.

“To be honest, there are quite a lot of cowards,” says Polak, whose nationality is being kept secret for his own protection. He estimates the number of foreign fighters at “perhaps several hundred”. The volunteers come from many different countries, among them “Canadians, Georgians, Croats”. Apparently they are not trained for a war with artillery fire.

A brutal war that shocks even experienced soldiers

The deaths of a German, a Dutchman, a Frenchman and an Australian recently showed how dangerous voluntary work is. The pro-Russian separatists also sentenced to death two Britons and a Moroccan fighting for Ukraine. Since the beginning of the invasion, Russian forces have killed “hundreds” of foreign fighters, Moscow said in early June.

International Legion spokesman Damien Magrou of France admits that foreign fighters – many of them from NATO countries – are surprised by the brutality of the warfare. “An American who fought in six wars told me it was the worst thing he had ever seen,” reports the 33-year-old. “Missiles, bombings – on the ground it’s very different from what you might have expected.”

Between 10 and 30 percent of the recruits laid down their arms after only a short time, says Magrou. “Almost all the participants are ex-soldiers, a third of them come from an English-speaking country.” Colloquial language in the Legion is therefore also English. According to the spokesman, the rest come mainly from Central and Eastern Europe.

The reasons for voluntary combat use are different. “Americans are fighting for freedom and Western values, while Poles say they want to defend Ukraine because they are also defending their country,” says Magrou.

“If we don’t stop the aggressor, he will invade one country after another”

“I wanted to come here after I saw the pictures on TV,” says Mika, a German interviewed by the AFP news agency in Kharkiv. “I was in the army and I thought I could help. If we don’t stop the aggressor in Ukraine, he will invade one country after another.”

Legion volunteers sign a contract with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, they are free to leave at any time. Many a deployment in Ukraine brings problems in their home country. In countries like Italy or South Korea “you risk a lawsuit,” says spokesman Magrou. London advised British soldiers and veterans against taking part in the conflict.

Magrou himself had been working in a law firm in Kyiv for two years when Russia attacked Ukraine. During the interview in the capital, he wears a military uniform and speaks French. When an elderly woman sees him like this, she waves to him. “We are very much appreciated by the Ukrainian civilian population,” says Magrou. “People feed us and thank us for our work.”