Following the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, some foreigners answered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call to join the foreign legion. However, stories of the unit’s poor management and “disorganise mayhem” quickly emerged as volunteers were captured by Russian troops or fled the warzone.
Several Britons who travelled to Ukraine to fight have told Channel 4 News they suffered from poor equipment and poor management by Ukrainian commanders.
One of the soldiers, 18-year-old Ben Atkin, who only underwent basic training as a military cadet, said he nearly ended up in the frontline without equipment, weapons or any additional training just a day after arriving in the country.
“It’s disorganised mayhem, you are ill-equipped, you’re poorly armed […] You will be used as cannon-fodder”, Atkin said. “You can’t trust these people [Ukrainian commanders and legion soldiers] to look after you”, he continued.
The young recruit said that he was told to give up his passport upon arrival, and instructed to prepare himself to be deployed to the eastern frontline in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) within 24 hours, where intense fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops was taking. Atkin was also told that his three-month tour might end up being three years.
He added that there were radical differences between the way the Ukrainian foreign legion was sold to him and the way it actually was. The Brit advised others who might be thinking of volunteering to consider other options instead of “just dying senselessly” – such as fundraising, donating or working for an NGO.
Another former “legionnaire”, 30-year-old ex-Royal Navy engineer who only gave his name – Curtis – echoed Atkin’s sentiments.
“There was absolutely no structure to it [the Foreign Legion] at all. Nothing at all. There was a Ukrainian officer who was in charge of the whole entity and [who] left [us] to our devices essentially for the first few days, and it was chaos, absolute chaos”, Curtis told Channel 4.
Unlike Atkin, who ended up working for a local charity in the Lvov region, Curtis made it to the frontlines in Irpen, near Kiev. According to him, many people in the Foreign Legion had to fight without helmets, and also often lacked ammunition.
The soldiers’ stories echo some of the things that Andrew Hill, a British mercenary captured by Russian troops, said about his service in the legion. Hill admitted that he and others were largely kept in the dark about their assignments, and that promises of payment never materialised. The UK citizen likewise advised his compatriots to think twice before deciding to join the distant war.