Foreign Fighters in Ukraine: The Truth and Consequences Behind the Phenomenon
What draws one to battle? As the war in Ukraine has progressed, more and more foreign fighters have come to the country to fight on the side of Ukraine. The fighters’ backgrounds vary from trained paramedics and ex-military officers to white supremacists and Neo-Nazis. The latter is a cause for concern for many, as there is speculation some of Ukraine’s far-right groups, such as Azov, are attracting foreign nationals to the country. As written by Seth Harp, there is evidence that two foreign fighters killed in Ukraine were Neo-Nazis attracted to the war in Ukraine due to the participation of such groups in the conflict. FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN UKRAINE COULD BE A TIME BOMB FOR THEIR HOME COUNTRIES-Two died in the Ukrainian Army’s International Legion may have been neo-Nazis. This leaves many asking how many foreign fighters with white supremacist ideolgies are fighting in Ukraine? Although it can be argued that these fighters are on the right side of history, they are in Ukraine for the wrong reasons and often face consequences far more lethal than Ukrainian fighters.
As noted, foreign fighters are in Ukraine for a variety of reasons. Many are there simply because they feel the Russian invasion is troubling and want to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty. As noted on an NPR podcast, others are war-hawks who crave the feeling of battle, traveling the world to various conflicts, trying to get a piece of the action. The Foreign Fighters Who’ve Gone To Ukraine These fighters, although exercising likely questionable judgment, are ultimately doing an admirable thing. They are using their military or professional expertise to help Ukraine fight off Russia––––which remains their end goal. However, while in Ukraine to fight off Russia, many other foreign fighters are there to pursue and live out white supremacist and Neo-Nazi views. According to Harp, who gave the example of one French fighter, many believe the lies of far-right propaganda and go to Ukraine to free the country from perceived “Asiatic hordes.” The fighter, Mr. Blerioit, was labelled by fellow white supremacists as a “man who fought bolshevism and antifascism all his life, a brother-in-arms, a martyr, and a fallen comrade to be mourned and celebrated. FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN UKRAINE COULD BE A TIME BOMB FOR THEIR HOME COUNTRIES-Two killed in the Ukrainian Army’s International Legion may have been neo-Nazis.
Mr. Blerioit is an example of a troubled individual who believed in white supremacist lies and travelled to Ukraine to pursue his ideas. However, Mr. Blerioit is not in the majority. According to Harp, “Likewise, Bleriot should not be taken as representative of the Ukrainian Army’s International Legion. Amid the chaos of the first two months of the war, most of the foreigners who flocked to Ukraine to fight were turned away and went home. The International Legion only accepted those with substantial military experience, mostly from the U.S. and U.K. Bleriot, who told an Argentinian interviewer that he had served one year in the French army, would have barely made the cut. There’s little doubt that he claimed the Misanthropic Division’s neo-Nazi ideology, as articulated in spaces like its Telegram channel, but such extremists, isolated and small in number, also find their way into the U.S. military on a regular basis.” FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN UKRAINE COULD BE A TIME BOMB FOR THEIR HOME COUNTRIES-Two killed in the Ukrainian Army’s International Legion may have been neo-Nazis.
In fact, many in the International Legion have suffered more severe consequences than those in the regular Ukrainian forces. According to the New York Times, “Russia maintains that some foreign fighters it has captured are mercenaries and not entitled to protection as prisoners of war under international law. A local court in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region found that the two British and one Moroccan fighters, who had immigrated to Ukraine, were guilty of “training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities” and that they undertook their activities “for a fee.” Foreign Fighters in Ukraine Face Perils if Captured – The New York Times In a separate instance, three foreign fighters were sentenced to death by pro-Russian separatists in what the United Nations has called a war crime. Death sentence for Ukraine foreign fighters is a war crime: UN rights office.
The penalties for foreign fighters remain harsher as Russia wants to make an example of them to the world. Between those who go for the right reasons and those who do not, Ukraine remains a dangerous and lethal battleground, where many have and will continue to perish. As more and more fighters travel to Ukraine, the motive aside, governments will be pressured to rescue them and negotiate with Russia if captured. This furthermore becomes difficult if evidence ties them to white supremacist or neo-nazi groups. All in all, it should be strongly discouraged for Westerners to travel to fight in Ukraine. Although the International Legion has its role, Russia will merely continue to make examples of foreign fighters, subjecting them to the harshest of penalties regardless of their views. This will subsequently give Russia more fire behind their conspiracy if more and more white supremacist foreigners are captured fighting in Ukraine.

Works Cited

Baughman, Brent, Noah Caldwell, and Kai McNamee. “The Foreign Fighters Who’ve Gone To Ukraine : Consider This from NPR.” NPR, 22 June 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/06/20/1106211841/the-foreign-fighters-whove-gone-to-ukraine. Accessed 4 July 2022.
Harp, Seth. “Foreign Fighters in Ukraine Could Be Time Bomb for Their Home Countries.” The Intercept, 30 June 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/06/30/ukraine-azov-neo-nazi-foreign-fighter/. Accessed 4 July 2022.
McKinley, James C. “Foreign Fighters in Ukraine Face Perils if Captured.” The New York Times, 21 June 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/17/world/europe/foreign-fighters-ukraine-americans.html. Accessed 4 July 2022.
Novikova, Diana. “Death sentence for Ukraine foreign fighters is a war crime: UN rights office.” UN News, 10 June 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/06/1120102. Accessed 4 July 2022.