Foreign Volunteers Including Elite Canadian Sniper Now Fighting For Ukraine
To date, more than 16,000 foreigners from fifty countries have volunteered to fight for Ukraine.
There may be no George Orwell or Ernest Hemingway, but foreign nationals from around the world are volunteering to head to Ukraine and defend the nation from invading Russian forces. Among those willing to stand up to unprovoked Russian aggression is an elite sniper from the Canadian Army's Royal 22nd Regiment; he is one of several Canadian military veterans answering the call for volunteers from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to create an "international legion."
Nicknamed "Wali"—his real identity has been withheld—the sniper is a combat veteran, who previously deployed to Afghanistan. He told the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) that he crossed the border into Ukraine from Poland, and found the experience "surreal," even when compared to his time in Kandahar. He was joined by three other former Canadian soldiers who were happy to do their part to aid the people of Ukraine. "They were so happy to have us," said Wali of the Ukrainians who greeted him. "It's like we were friends right away."
This is not the first time the marksman has offered his combat skills to a beleaguered force fighting for its very survival. He had previously joined the Kurdish forces that engaged Islamic State extremists (ISIS) in northern Iraq.
"I have to help because there are people here being bombarded just because they want to be European and not Russian," Wali, now a computer programmer, explained. "A week ago, I was still programming stuff. Now I'm grabbing anti-tank missiles in a warehouse … That's my reality right now."
A Foreign Legion
Kyiv has asked that all foreign fighters sign a three-year contract with its territorial defense forces, and while many are reluctant, the reason has been to provide them the same protections under the code of war as any other soldier on the battlefield.
Denys Podanchuk, a civilian adviser to the commander of the Ukraine Army's Special Forces and the territorial defense units, told the CBC that the citizen-soldiers needed to sign those contracts in order to receive all of the legal protections and benefits the government in Kyiv could offer.
"We have said in our law that all members of resistance have all the [same] rights as soldiers in our army," Podanchuk said in Kyiv in early February before the invasion began. "All members of this legal volunteer defence group ... all of them have equal rights, social rights, as legal soldiers."
To date, more than 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine, and they've come from more than fifty countries including the United States, Canada, Finland, Georgia, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Belgium, Belarus, and the United Kingdom.
Some of those governments have supported it, while others have not.
One concern is that Russia could use the presence of foreign soldiers as evidence that NATO is engaged in the conflict.
For its part, the Ukrainian parliament has sought to help protect those willing to come and fight. Last month, it had passed sweeping legislation mandating national resistance among citizens. The aim of the law was to ensure that, in the event of capture, registered citizen-soldiers would be afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions, CBC reported.
In addition, Wali and his comrades in arms shouldn't run into any problems with their government, which may look the other way. The exception would be if they were to fight for rather than against Russia. This is due to the Foreign Enlistment Act, a Canadian law dating back to 1937, which prohibits people from fighting against an ally of Canada. It was designed to discourage Canadians from fighting in the Spanish Civil War, but as Ukraine is essentially an ally of Canada, the law should not apply.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.