More than 20,000 volunteers and veterans from 52 countries have expressed a desire to join and fight to defend Ukraine in their international legion, an official from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said last week. CNN’s Jim Sciutto and his team with some of these volunteers in Ukraine.
Their resumes range from combat experience to no military training at all.
Brian, a 25-year-old Minnesota resident, served two years with the US Marines in Okinawa, Japan, and has volunteered to fight with and for Ukrainians.
“I’m a US Marine. If I have to die to help these people, I will,” he told CNN.
Oskar, a volunteer from Sweden, has no formal military training.
“We’re here to help people. Hopefully, it’s going to be over before we reach the fronts, before we need to fire a bullet or save someone with medical resources. That’s the best for everyone. But if that’s what it comes to, we’ll be there,” he said.
All volunteers get some training. While many can contribute on the battlefield, others may never see combat.
David, a 33-year-old Canadian, said he can help fix tires to keep Ukrainian military vehicles on the road.
“If it’s black and round and made out of rubber, I can fix it. One of the most important things of the gears of war is keeping it moving,” he told CNN.
However, arming thousands of people is not without its risks.
“They might be dangerous,” said Roman, a man who vets the background of all foreign volunteers. “We try to check their biography, try to check their past as best we can.”
And Ukraine does not just need on-field fighters. Volunteers with combat medical experience are urgently required too.
That’s what brought Sky Barkley, a US Marine and missionary to Ukraine, along with six other Americans. Barkley said this war does not compare to an insurgency or even the fight against ISIS.
“I mean, we’re talking about the sheer amount of missiles being launched across the country, the ability of the Russians to reach out across hundreds and hundreds of kilometers and kill from that kind of distance,” he told CNN.
Part of Barkley’s team is Missouri native Maddie Hayes, who served as a nurse in Iraq.
“I just have a heart for these people. I just really want to help them. I don’t see my life more valuable than their life,” she said.
Sciutto reports that the training the Ukrainian military is able to offer foreign volunteers is limited — volunteers will get three to 14 days of basic training, and it’s not a short-term commitment. Those who volunteer to fight are asked to sign on for a year of commitment in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have made clear this is “not a calling for adventurers or weekend warriors,” but a “service against a massive and ruthless invading army,” Sciutto reports.
Just last week, the State Department warned Americans who travel to Ukraine and fight with Ukrainian forces in the ongoing war will be treated by Russians as “mercenaries” or foreign fighters, Russians have said, which puts them at a greater risk of mistreatment.
US citizens could also face criminal prosecution, capture or death from Russia for fighting on behalf of Ukraine in the war, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing Friday, adding that the US will also not be able to evacuate American citizens from Ukraine at any point.
Watch Jim Sciutto’s report: