Veterans, glory seekers and social media stars

  • Around 20,000 foreign fighters are said to have joined the Ukrainian Foreign Legion to fight against Russia.
  • Among the battle stories emerged reports of volunteers leaving traumatized and disillusioned.
  • According to foreign fighters, the units lack organization and equipment, and some volunteers have dubious motives.

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited foreign volunteers to fight alongside Ukrainians against Russia, thousands around the world took up arms.

Although there are no official figures, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in early March that around 20,000 foreign fighters from 52 countries had volunteered. Around 3,000 US citizens reportedly volunteered.

A US volunteer, James Vasquez, 47, an Army veteran and home renovation contractor from Connecticut, was there live tweeting his local experience and gained over 250,000 followers in just a few weeks.

In his viral updates, Vasquez has described “remove” Russian tanks and the liberation of a Ukrainian village occupied by Russian forces.

Ukraine-based reporter Nolan Peterson confirmed claims that Foreign Legion fighters helped Liberate the city of Irpin.

But among the stories of bravery and struggle emerged reports of Foreign Legion volunteers leaving Ukraine traumatized and disillusioned.

These fighters cited various issues at the site, including a lack of organization and equipment, and the questionable quality and motivation of some of the other volunteers.

Glory seekers and fantasists

Hieu Le, 30, a California-based Vietnamese-American veteran who previously served in Afghanistan, documented his journey to joining the Foreign Legion on Facebook.

Le said he decided to leave just two weeks after arriving in Ukraine due to the traumatic death of a fellow combatant and some negative experiences with other volunteers.

Hieu Le volunteers for the Foreign Legion in Ukraine.

Hieu Le volunteers for the Foreign Legion in Ukraine.

Courtesy of Hieu Le/Facebook

While praising the Ukrainian resistance and most other legionnaires, Le said a minority of recalcitrant fighters were causing trouble.

“Among the many volunteers who come with good intentions at heart are those who come only to satisfy a sadistic need to kill and feed their ego,” Le wrote on Facebook.

Le said some of these “crazy” legionnaires claimed to be special forces but spent their time provoking fights with other volunteers and being “high on amphetamines, testosterone, steroids.”

Another volunteer from Les’s unit, a Polish veteran named Adam, supported some of Les’s claims in an interview with Vice News.

Le further claimed he had heard rumors that these fighters went on missions drunk, ransacked homes and shot lost dogs.

“Given the criminal and lawless nature of other groups of legionnaires my team had to live with, it was better to leave before I was implicated in any of their war crimes,” Le wrote on Facebook.

Insiders asked Hieu Le for an interview, but he said he didn’t want to keep reliving the negative memories. Insider was unable to independently verify Le’s claims.

Hieu Le and other foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Hieu Le and other foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Courtesy of Hieu Le/Facebook

Other experts and volunteers working with the Foreign Legion have reported concerns about the caliber and motives of some volunteers.

The military newspaper Task and Purpose reported that among the first fighters in the Foreign Legion there was “a swarm of fanatics for every candidate with combat experience”.

Harrison Jozefowicz, founder of the Task Force Yankee Ukraine volunteer group that helps army veterans join the Foreign Legion, told Canadian newspaper Global News that about 55% of their recruits are turned down due to inexperience or questionable motives.

Many of those volunteers appeared to be “fame seekers,” motivated by a desire to gain influence on social media, he said.

Ukrainian officials have become more demanding about which volunteers they accept, asking candidates to disclose their previous combat experiences on online application forms.

Foreign Legion Volunteers in Ukraine.

Foreign Legion Volunteers in Ukraine.

Courtesy of Hieu Le/Facebook

“Our main priority is combat experience and everyone needs to understand their role and place,” Anton Myronovych, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told Global News.

“We don’t need mercenaries who think they can make some money or anything.”

Several media outlets reported that a March 13 Russian missile attack on the Yavoriv training base near Lviv, where many Foreign Legion fighters are based, successfully weeded out those unprepared for the realities of war.

Sergeant Damien Magrou, a spokesman for the Foreign Legion, told Global News that many fighters were so shocked by the carnage of the bombardment, which killed at least 35 Ukrainian soldiers and an unknown number of foreign fighters, that they decided to go as soon as possible to go.

The Yavoriv military base after the attack by Russian forces on March 13, 2022.

The Yavoriv military base after the attack by Russian forces on March 13, 2022.

Courtesy of Hieu Le/Facebook

Lack of organization, equipment and asymmetric warfare

Even seasoned military veterans who joined the Foreign Legion are disillusioned, saying they are ill-equipped and unprepared for the brutality of war.

Ukraine’s military has repeatedly urged Western allies to send much-needed weapons and equipment they lack, and Foreign Legion fighters have repeated.

Amid his chipper updates from the front lines, James Vasquez has asked his followers to do the same donate to help purchase equipment for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Some Canadian fighters similarly told the Globe and Mail that they had chosen to leave the Foreign Legion because they lacked equipment and had to sign treaties committing themselves to war.

Concerns about having to sign open-ended contracts were echoed by other fighters, The Economist’s 1843 Magazine reported.

Hieu Le, who was reportedly running a noodle stand in Colombia when inspired by Zelenskyy’s call to defend Ukraine, told Vice News that while the Ukrainian resistance was “impressive,” it lacked top-down organization in the Foreign Legion missing leading to unnecessary sacrifices.

He suggested adding a Ukrainian officer to each unit of the Foreign Legion to remedy the situation.

Foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Courtesy of Hieu Le/Facebook

Even battle-hardened veterans of Afghanistan have found fighting the Russian army too difficult. Hieu Le and Polish volunteer Adam told Vice News that their previous combat experiences did not prepare them for the “asymmetric nature of warfare in Ukraine.”

“Even those with military experience must recognize that there hasn’t been a war fought like this in a long time,” Le told Vice News.

“What’s different about the US military and all the other NATO military – they’re spoiled. When it comes to waging a war, they have air support, medivac, logistics, all kinds of intelligence and support. Here in Ukraine, we didn’t have any of that,” he said.

Adam, a 35-year-old Polish carpenter who was touring in Afghanistan, told the outlet that a trip to Afghanistan was like a “vacation” compared to what he experienced in Ukraine.

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