Thousands of foreigners have joined Ukraine’s fight against Russia. Former US soldier Kevin is one of them. He reported to the US broadcaster CNN about his mission.
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy personally asked them for help: In the first days after the Russian invasion, Zelenskyy invited foreigners with combat experience to take part in the resistance against the army of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and announced the founding of an “International Legion”: ” Anyone who wants to join the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight alongside Ukrainians against Russian war criminals,” the president said.
One who responded to this call is Kevin, a burly American in his early 30s, according to US news channel CNN. Kevin is one of a group of foreign special forces veterans, primarily from the US and UK, who have volunteered to help Ukraine with their skills and experience. He has now told the broadcaster about his experiences defending the Kiev suburb of Irpin.
“It was madness from the start”
In March, his unit spent four days in a sanatorium in Irpin, often just 50 meters from Russian troops, said Kevin, whose full name is not given to CNN for security reasons. It was the most advanced Ukrainian position in the place about ten kilometers northwest of Kyiv when Russian troops tried to advance to take the capital. They would have called it “the house from hell”.
Despite his previous career as a senior US counter-terrorism agent who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was in Ukraine that he experienced the most intense combat of his life, Kevin said. He and his associates used many of the same guerrilla tactics used against the American military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. “Everything is much more decentralized,” explained the US citizen. “The small group tactic is definitely a big advantage here.” Being on the opposite side to his previous missions and hearing the enemy’s radio traffic saying, ok, they’re out there somewhere, but we don’t know where or who it is — that’s definitely an advantage.
But there were also significant disadvantages. For the first time in his life, he had to defend himself against an invasion by a better-equipped enemy and had to worry about air raids and artillery fire, like his opponents usually do. “It was like a movie,” Kevin told CNN. “It was madness from the start. They came under fire from handguns and he was in a pickup truck and just drove down the street. “There are tanks. And above us are helicopters. And you can hear the Russian jets fly by. And out in the fields, the Russians dropped their troops in helicopters. And you’re like, ‘Whoa, wow! That’s quite a lot.”
Many foreign fighters have decided to leave given the reality of the fight, Kevin says. “That’s when they say, ‘Maybe this isn’t for me’. The first time the ball gets to 20 yards is the first time you’re like, ‘Oh shit,'” he says . He and his comrades had had enough of the war every day. But then the next day came with new orders and missions and they stayed.
Eventually, his unit ended up at the sauna and fitness complex, where they stayed for four days, even as the building slowly crumbled under Russian fire. “We call it the house of horrors because it was literally a nightmare,” Kevin told the US broadcaster. “It’s been four really miserable days with very little sleep, heavy artillery and a heavy Russian infantry presence. No matter how many people we removed from their side, they just kept coming back.” At one point, the Russian troops were so close that, lying on the ground in the pitch-dark night, he could hear the crunching of glass under the enemy’s feet.
He and the other foreigners on his team were “shocked,” Kevin said. “But the Ukrainian soldiers remained calm, cool and relaxed. It’s normal, don’t worry,” they said. He admired the efforts of the Ukrainian forces. “They are masters of terrain defense,” explained Kevin. “You know every inch of the terrain. You know that little alley where we can wait. You know how to get there. They know we can hide there. You know which building we need to go to. And they’ll tell you before we get there, hey, there’s a very nice basement five doors down. That’s where we should go.”
Kevin stands by his mission in Ukraine
Like many military veterans, Kevin had felt helpless after completing his military service a few years earlier. Although he had a full-time job in the United States, when Zelenskyj published his appeal to experienced foreign fighters, he quit his job and joined the International Legion. The government pays him and his colleagues a modest salary of $2,000 to $3,000 a month, according to CNN, though Kevin says they spent far more than that buying equipment.
Nevertheless, he is certain that coming to Ukraine was the right decision. “It became more and more obvious to us that it was the right thing to do,” he emphasized. “Everything was on fire. The artillery was in constant use. We had already seen civilians being literally murdered.” He and his comrades found many people tied up, shot, thrown to the side of the road and run over by tanks. “Just barbaric. For what reason?” It’s really about good versus evil, Kevin said. “You hear that the Ukrainians call the Russians ‘Orcs’. To them it’s a symbol of good versus evil, like in Lord of the Rings – the light versus the dark.”
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova is investigating thousands of alleged Russian war crimes cases across the country, and the International Criminal Court is also investigating Kremlin troops. Russia, on the other hand, denies war crimes allegations and claims its armed forces do not attack civilians.
Kevin said he feels like he’s aged five years in the last three months. He doesn’t know how to explain to his friends at home what he’s experiencing. He doesn’t know if he wants that either. But he knows that Ukraine “is where I should be” and he plans to stay there for the foreseeable future. “We’ve seen that throughout history,” Kevin explained. “People keep asking me, ‘Oh, that’s not your fight.’ Or, ‘What are you doing over there?’ Yes, but many times throughout history it wasn’t our fight. And then it was. It’s not your problem until it’s your problem.”