Kiev has blamed the gradual dip in arrivals on a drop-off in media attention and Russian “disinformation”
Ukraine’s “International Legion” is suffering a shortage of recruits, according to the unit’s spokesperson Damien Magrou, who spoke to NBC News about the challenges facing foreign fighters on the front lines of the conflict between Kiev and Moscow.
In an article published on Thursday, the Dutch lawyer who is currently serving as a corporal in the legion said that “there’s been a gradual dip in the number of arrivals over the course of the last few months, which isn’t very surprising given that attention in Western media has shifted elsewhere and the more motivated fighters made their decision in the beginning.”
Magrou added that recruitment, reputation and fundraising have been negatively affected by “Russian disinformation,” and that the legion was “exploring avenues to widen” its recruiting efforts.
The outlet spoke to several mercenaries currently serving in the legion, who shared their experiences fighting alongside the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Many of the foreign fighters noted that supply shortages, delays in receiving weapons from the West and frustration about communication have “challenged their spirits” after months of battle. Others complained that counter-offensive strategies were often undermined by older Ukrainian commanders who insisted on sticking to outdated tactics.
Also hurting morale, the mercenaries say, are the constant Russian bombardments. One American fighting for Ukraine who has combat experience in the Middle East described the Russian shelling as “the closest thing I’ve ever seen to hell.”
“The seeming randomness of the strikes intensifies the feeling among some that survival might come down to sheer luck,” the outlet said.
Another group of non-Ukrainian soldiers fighting alongside Kiev’s forces told NBC that “the number of people that are upset and have low morale has increased, and that’s partly because of the way the Russians have chosen to fight.” It‘s been estimated by Kiev that the Ukrainian side has suffered as many as 100 to 200 casualties per day at the worst points in the war. The heavy losses have reportedly eroded morale within the ranks of the “International Legion,” as well as in other units of the Ukrainian army.
Another deterrent for foreign fighters, according to NBC, is Russia’s position that any captured non-Ukrainian fighters would be treated as mercenaries and not as enemy combatants as described by the Geneva Convention. After the Donetsk People’s Republic handed out death sentences to three foreign nationals captured on the battlefields of Donbass, some foreign fighters in Ukraine now say that they would prefer death to being captured. However, none of the death sentences have been carried out yet, as appeals by the defendants are pending.
One soldier, a US Army veteran, told NBC that he always keeps a small hand grenade hidden on his person, which he plans to detonate if he is ever in danger of capture.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian president Pyotr Poroshenko has since admitted that Kiev’s main goal was to use the ceasefire to buy time and “create powerful armed forces.”
In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbass republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked.
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