The number of international fightersis growing every day. The Ukrainian government reports more than 16,000 foreigners have already arrived, including some Americans.
Andriy Penchak is an American licensed truck driver who was born in Ukraine. He landed with three other Americans ready to go into the war zone. He told “CBS Mornings” co-anchor Tony Dokoupil that he wanted to save the lives of the Ukrainians still inside the country.
He launched this mission from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He’s never been to battle and used personal savings to pay for his plane tickets.
Penchak said the hardest part was leaving his three young children. “I didn’t say goodbye. I said, see you later,” he said.
While the White House says the American military is not going into Ukraine to fight Russia, everyday Americans like Penchak are not restricted from going in — although it’s not recommended.
“We encourage all Americans not to travel to Ukraine right now, and those Americans who are in Ukraine to leave Ukraine, because it is not safe,” said Kristina Kvien, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine.
Bipartisan leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Gregory Meeks and Congressman Michael McCaul traveled to Ukraine’s border to view the war’s human toll up close.
Meeks said that the Americans traveling to Ukraine is an example of the importance of democracy.
“I think that what they see and what people around the world are seeing is democracy is at stake and as President Zelensky said to us, this is not just a fight for the Ukrainian people, this is a fight for all of us. It’s just starting here,” Meeks said.
“Ukrainians have inspired the world, and these freedom fighters, I call them,” McCaul said.
Before the war, Kristofer Kalas was a pastry chef who split his time between Ukraine and New York.
Now, he’s dressed in full body armor walking toward the checkpoint into Ukraine. He made sure his wife and baby made it safely to Poland but decided to go back – not to fight, he says, but to help others and help ensure Ukraine remains for years to come.
“I want my child to have a Ukraine to go back to when she’s grown up,” Kalas said.
Russia’s military warned foreign fighters they’d be treated as “mercenaries,” not as protected combatants under “international humanitarian law.” Kalas said .
“As far as I can tell, they don’t protect civilians under humanitarian law, so I don’t put much credence in anything they say,” Kalas said.