Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the embassy of the smaller country in Washington has taken on an unusual role: serving as a recruitment hub for Americans interested in joining the war.
Thousands of offers from volunteers seeking to fight for Ukraine are being fielded by diplomats working out of the embassy in a townhouse in the Georgetown section of the city, even as they work on the far more pressing matter of securing weapons to defend against an increasingly brutal Russian onslaught.
Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, Ukraine’s military attaché, stated, “They genuinely feel like this conflict is unjust and unwarranted.” “They feel compelled to go and assist.”
Volunteers from the United States are a small subgroup of foreigners wishing to fight for Ukraine, and they constitute a small portion of the international aid that has poured into the country. Nonetheless, the strike and escalating civilian losses have sparked a firestorm of emotion that has been amplified by social media.
“These are not mercenaries looking for a quick buck,” Kremenetskyi explained. “These are individuals of good intention who are come to help Ukraine struggle for its independence.”
Americans are being discouraged from fighting in Ukraine by the US government, which raises legal and national security concerns.
Since the invasion on Feb. 24, the embassy in Washington has received at least 6,000 inquiries about volunteering for duty, the “great majority” of whom are American citizens, according to Kremenetskyi, who coordinates the vetting of possible recruiters from the United States.
According to the general, half of the potential volunteers were promptly rejected and didn’t even make it to the Zoom interview. They included a 16-year-old kid and a 73-year-old man who lacked the requisite military experience, had a criminal history, or were unsuitable for other reasons such as age.
Some applicants were turned down because the embassy said it couldn’t do proper screening. The procedures utilized to screen persons were not disclosed by the general.
Kremenetskyi, who talked to The Associated Press just after returning from the Pentagon for talks on the military gear his country requires for defense, expressed gratitude to both the US government and the general public for their assistance.
“Only strong fists and weapons will stop Russians,” he warned.
About 100 Americans have made the cut thus far. They include combat veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as well as several helicopter pilots, according to the attaché.
They must go to Poland on their own, crossing at a designated location with their own protective gear but no weapon, which they will get once they there. They’ll have to sign a contract agreeing to serve in the International Legion for Ukraine’s Territorial Defense without pay.
Approximately 20,000 foreigners from various countries have already joined, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
About 1,000 Canadians have sought to fight for Ukraine, according to Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Liberal MP in Canada who is assisting with recruiting. The great majority of those who have applied have no links to the nation.
“A substantial percentage of the volunteers are ex-military; these are people who took the difficult decision to join the military to defend the principles that we believe in,” Wrzesnewskyj added. “And they can’t stand by and watch what’s going on in Ukraine.”
It’s unclear how many American citizens intending to fight have really made it to Ukraine, despite the State Department’s warnings.
“Of course, we’ve been quite vocal for some time in calling on Americans who may have been residents in Ukraine to leave, and making plain to Americans who may be contemplating about visiting there not to go,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently told reporters.
Citizens of the United States are not needed to register when traveling outside the country. According to the State Department, the number of people who have entered Ukraine since the Russian incursion is unknown.
According to a top federal law enforcement officer, participating in a foreign war might result in criminal fines or even the loss of citizenship in some cases.
However, legal concerns are only one of many for US authorities, who are concerned about what might happen if an American is killed, kidnapped, or recruited to work for a foreign intelligence service while abroad, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues.
Some of the prospective foreign combatants, according to government and independent security experts, may be white supremacists fighting on both sides of the war. They may grow more radicalized and receive military training in Ukraine, making them a greater threat when they return home.
“These are individuals who seek adventure, a sense of significance, and are harking back to World War II language,” said Anne Speckhard, head of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, who has extensively examined foreigners who fought in Syria and abroad.
Ukraine may be avoiding some possible legal concerns by enabling foreign recruiting and instructing volunteers to sign contracts and obtain weapons after they reach in the country. It also minimizes the risk of direct confrontation with Russians by allocating them to territory defense troops rather than front-line soldiers, albeit it is far from eradicated.
The commander concedes that any captured foreigners may be utilized for propaganda reasons. But he didn’t linger on it, instead emphasizing the need of his country’s defense against Russia.
“We’re battling for our lives,” he explained. “We’re defending our family and our land.” And we’re not going down without a fight.”