Some countries support citizens who want to defend Ukraine, but others warn that they could face legal problems. Moscow, for its part, assures that these fighters will not be recognised as prisoners of war

Thousands of foreign fighters join the Ukrainian army in the war against Russia

photo_camera REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH - A foreign fighter from the UK poses for a photo as he and other volunteers prepare to leave for the front line in eastern Ukraine after the Russian invasion, at the main railway station in Lviv, Ukraine, 5 March 2022.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, one of the most prominent aspects has been Moscow's military superiority over the Ukrainian army. According to the report 'The Military Balance' by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Russia has 900,000 active military personnel and 2 million reservists, compared to 196,000 soldiers and 900,000 Ukrainian reservists.

Russia's military capabilities are also greater in the naval sector. Moscow has 74 warships and 51 submarines, while Kiev has only two ships. In land and air forces this imbalance remains

Gr谩fico que muestra los principales acontecimientos en Ucrania a partir del 9 de marzo, 06:00 GMT AFP/AFP

Despite this, Ukraine manages to resist Moscow's aggression. Both Kiev and Kharkov, the second largest city, have not yet fallen into Russian hands despite heavy shelling. Many citizens have opted to join the national forces as the government takes desperate measures in the face of advancing Russian troops.

Kiev has banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from crossing the border crossings. In this vein, President Volodimir Zelensky also announced last week that he would release all prisoners with military experience. "This decision was taken, which was not easy from a moral point of view, but it is useful from the point of view of our defence," said the Ukrainian leader. 

El presidente Volodymyr Zelensky denunci贸 el 8 de marzo de 2022 lo que calific贸 de "promesas" incumplidas por parte de Occidente de proteger a Ucrania de los ataques rusos. "Llevamos 13 d铆as escuchando promesas, 13 d铆as en los que nos han dicho que nos ayudar谩n en el aire, que habr谩 aviones, que nos los entregar谩n", dijo Zelensky en un v铆deo difundido en Telegram AFP PHOTO/UKRAINIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS OFFICE

All these decisions demonstrate the great efforts made by Kiev in the fight against Russian troops, but what is the rest of the world doing for Ukraine? While NATO has already made it clear that it will not get involved militarily for fear of triggering a full-scale war, several countries have sent arms to the Ukrainian army. The US and the UK sent weapons to the country before the invasion, while Moscow built up its troops on the Ukrainian border.

Subsequently, after the attack, other nations have followed in Washington and London's footsteps. Even Germany and Sweden, which had not provided arms to a country in conflict since World War II, have agreed to back Kiev militarily.

Esta imagen muestra un edificio de apartamentos da帽ado tras los bombardeos del d铆a anterior en la segunda ciudad m谩s grande de Ucrania, Kharkiv, el 8 de marzo de 2022 AFP/SERGEY BOBOK
20,000 volunteers on their way to Ukraine

In this context, thousands of people from all over the world have sent applications to join the International Legion of foreign volunteers to fight Russia in Ukraine. According to Ukrainian Defence Minister Dmytro Kuleba, about 20,000 foreign fighters have already applied to isolate themselves in the international brigades in Ukraine.

Days after the invasion began, Zelensky announced the creation of a "foreign legion" and called on "all those who want to join the defence of security in Europe and the world" to fight "alongside Ukrainians against the invaders of the 21st century". Kuleba, for his part, urged "all foreigners who have the will to defend Ukraine and the new world order" to contact Ukrainian diplomatic delegations in each country. "Together we defeated Hitler, and together we will defeat Putin too," he wrote on his Twitter account. 

Ben Grant y otros combatientes extranjeros del Reino Unido posan para una foto mientras se preparan para partir hacia la l铆nea del frente en el este de Ucrania tras la invasi贸n rusa, en la estaci贸n de tren principal de Lviv, Ucrania, el 5 de marzo de 2022 REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH

Both Telegram channels and Reddit threads outline steps for foreigners wishing to join the Ukrainian forces. The requirements include an interview with the Defence Attach茅 and the Consul to complete visa procedures. Volunteers must also present documents proving some form of military experience.

"Afterwards, instructions will be given on how to get to Ukraine and what documentation and equipment is required. It is recommended, if available, military clothing or its elements (equipment, helmet, bulletproof vest...)," explains one of the Telegram channels providing information to volunteers. However, Kyrylo Budanov, reminds the Military Times that "there is no time for training", so they ask that only "trained people" go. 

Insignia se muestra en el uniforme de un combatiente extranjero del Reino Unido mientras se preparan para partir hacia la l铆nea del frente en el este de Ucrania tras la invasi贸n rusa, en la estaci贸n principal de tren de Lviv, Ucrania REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH

According to the Ukrainian military authorities, many of the fighters already on Ukrainian territory "have participated in peacekeeping campaigns around the world". They also report that the volunteers come from 52 different countries. Images and videos of American, Canadian and European fighters are circulating on social networks.

According to the British newspaper The Times, 150 former paratroopers who served in Afghanistan are on their way to the front line in Ukraine. "They need help. We are young, strong, fit, young men and we can help," a British citizen on his way to enlist at the Ukrainian Embassy told Sky News. 

Combatientes extranjeros en Ucrania. PHOTO/UKRAINE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

However, there have also been reports of citizens from Mexico, India and Japan. According to Mainichi, one of Japan's leading newspapers, approximately 70 nationals, including former members of the country's Defence Forces and two veterans of the French Foreign Legion.

On the other hand, there is a significant number of people arriving from post-Soviet countries, such as Belarus and Georgia. Mamuka Mamulashvili, leader of the Georgian National Legion, tells VICE World News that even before the invasion around 200 foreign fighters had volunteered. "They want to fight for freedom and democratic values,", said.

Un soldado herido de las Fuerzas Militares de Ucrania en la batalla con las tropas rusas y los separatistas apoyados por Rusia en la regi贸n de Lugansk el 8 de marzo de 2022 AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV
"If we stop them here, I won't have to fight them in my country"

While thousands of citizens are leaving Ukraine, foreign volunteers are taking the opposite route and entering the country with the aim of helping the Ukrainian army, as is the case of paramedic Anthony Walker. Before heading to the front, the Canadian-born paramedic and comedian had been on the Ukrainian-Polish border.

When asked about the reasons for his decision, Walker told the BCC that he has "no ties to Ukraine", although he stressed that he is "human". "I think that's reason enough to come here," he adds. Bryson Woolsey, another Canadian volunteer with no military training, agrees. "I felt I had to do something," he told Reuters.  

However, these reasons are not the only ones that have pushed people to fight in Ukraine. In nearby countries, such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there are "historical and geographical reasons that make citizens feel especially vulnerable", explains Lisa Abend of TIME magazine.

"The response is especially high here because the Lithuanian people understand," Serhii Verkhovod, defence attach茅 at the Ukrainian embassy in Vilnius, told the US media. "They feel the threat," he adds. According to Verkhovod, some 200 Lithuanians have enlisted to fight in Ukraine. 

AP/VADIM GHIRDA  -   Un agente de Polic铆a ucraniano con un rifle de asalto camina por un and茅n rodeado de gente que espera un tren con destino a Kiev en Kostiantynivka, regi贸n de Donetsk, este de Ucrania, el jueves 24 de febrero de 2022

Similarly in Norway, where 300 applications have been received, according to the Ukrainian embassy in Oslo. The citizens of the country bordering Russia have been very attentive to Moscow's threats towards Finland and Sweden if they decide to join NATO. "If Russia invades them, we will have Russia on all our borders. Then Norway would no longer be Norway," a 23-year-old Norwegian man who flew to Poland to cross the border told Canadian television channel CTV News. "I hope that if we stop them here, I won't have to fight them in my country," he added.

PHOTO/Presidencia de Rusia  -   El presidente ruso Vlad铆mir Putin re煤ne al Consejo de Seguridad de la naci贸n, 21 de febrero de 2022, Mosc煤
What do governments think?

There is a division over foreign fighters moving into Ukraine to fight. On the one hand, countries such as Latvia and Denmark have allowed their citizens to fight against Russian troops. "It's a choice anyone can make," said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, while Riga has backed citizens who want to "defend Ukraine's independence and common security".

The Canadian government has been less clear, although it has stated that "Canadians can decide for themselves". "We understand that people of Ukrainian descent want to support their compatriots, and in that sense it is their own individual decision," said Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly.

AP/ALEX BRANDON  -   El portavoz del Pent谩gono, John Kirby, habla durante una rueda de prensa en el Pent谩gono

In contrast, Australian leader Scott Morrison has warned that such actions could have repercussions under Australian law. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby agrees with Morrison. Kirby noted that "if you're an American and you want to do the right thing for Ukraine", the best thing to do is to engage with humanitarian agencies.

This divide extends even within countries themselves. In the UK, for example, while British Chief of Staff Tony Radakin considers it "illegal and pointless" for the British to go to fight Russian forces, reports AFP, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says she will "absolutely" support citizens who want to go to Ukraine.

Russia: foreigners will not be recognised as prisoners of war 

Moscow has also spoken out about the thousands of foreign volunteers wishing to travel to Ukraine. Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov has been blunt, assuring that all foreign "mercenaries" detained in the country would face justice on criminal charges and would not be recognised as prisoners of war.

El portavoz del Ministerio de Defensa ruso, el general de divisi贸n Igor Konashenkov AP/ALEXANDER ZEMLIANNICHENKO

"All mercenaries sent by the West to help the nationalist regime in Kiev are not combatants according to international humanitarian laws. They are not entitled to prisoner of war status," Konashenkov warned.

However, according to US reports, Russia is reportedly recruiting Syrian fighters to send to Ukraine. "We believe there is some truth to that," Kirby responded when asked about the issue. Earlier, a senior defence official told The Wall Street Journal that they knew Moscow was "trying to recruit Syrians to fight" in Ukraine.

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