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Western fighters in Ukraine are getting killed because they assumed the war would be easy, says a US veteran who fought there

Sinéad Baker   

Western fighters in Ukraine are getting killed because they assumed the war would be easy, says a US veteran who fought there
  • A US veteran who fought in Ukraine said many Western fighters assumed it would be an easy fight.
  • He said some "treat it almost like it's a vacation, and they're not really expecting to die."

Western fighters who joined the war in Ukraine have been killed, in some cases, because they assumed the fight would be easy, a US veteran who fought in Ukraine told Business Insider.

The veteran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a lot of foreign veterans who came to Ukraine to fight against Russia's invasion had been used to fighting at an advantage and struggled to adapt to the conditions there, where they were often outmanned and outgunned.

"A lot of Westerners that come to Ukraine, they want to be heroes," he said. "I just kept seeing dudes that would go out to Ukraine, and they treat it almost like it's a vacation, and they're not really expecting to die."

He said he had the same mentality when he first started fighting there. But that changed, and he better understood how risky it was, as the war progressed. "I was expecting to die because that's just the type of mentality that I fucking had, and I was okay with it."

The veteran started fighting when Russia's full-scale invasion began in February 2022 and left Ukraine last December. He fought in some of the deadliest areas, like Kharkiv and Bakhmut, and also served as a combat medic for his unit, helping injured comrades.

He said he previously fought in Iraq as a contractor after he left the US military. He said "the tempo is a lot higher in Ukraine."

A different type of war

He explained that it was harder to find places to stay safe in Ukraine, where more drones are being used than in any conflict in history, and artillery and long-range weapons are in constant use.

He said that "even if you're fucking miles and miles behind the fucking front lines, you can still get hit by a fucking rocket out there." He said it's not like conflicts in Middle East, where if you're on a base you're "relatively safe."

That same comparison has been made by other US veterans in Ukraine, who described the fight in Ukraine as more intense.

One, who uses the call sign Jackie and who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, previously told BI that the fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut offered no place to stop and rest, unlike the other conflicts.

Both men also compared the war in Ukraine to World War I, with trenches and unrelenting artillery standing out as defining elements of the conflict.

The veteran said that Western fighters in Ukraine need to try and adapt to those conditions if they hope to survive.

"You have to be willing to relearn everything that you've been taught, which is, I think, one of the reasons why some of the Ukrainian soldiers are doing so well out there, because they don't have any base where they've been taught."

"Meanwhile, a lot of the Westerners, they already have a set idea about how things should be and everything, and it's just not that way out in Ukraine."

He said foreign fighters need "a willingness to learn and a willingness to give up everything. You have to be willing to fucking give up everything in order to fight this fucking war."

Western tactics have been questioned in this war, with Ukrainian soldiers and some experts saying that the NATO-style training given to Ukrainian soldiers has not been right for this war. And Western militaries training Ukrainians say they are now also adapting training as they learn from them, the soldiers who have real-world experience against Russia's military.

The veteran said of foreign fighters in Ukraine: "A lot of these people, they're just not willing to give up and to do what actually needs to be done for that country."

Foreign fighters coming to Ukraine

He was one of many foreign fighters who fought for Ukraine. Many of those who have signed up have had previous combat experience, such as with the US military, though some had none. Others have said they had experience but were lying.

There are no proven figures for how many foreign fighters have come to Ukraine or have been killed there. Ukraine founded its International Legion in 2022, allowing foreign fighters to come to Ukraine and help it fight back against Russia. While many foreigners fight through the legion, others are separate from it.

There are some units fighting in Ukraine that are made up entirely of foreign veterans. Many who have come have cited what they said was a need to fight back against global injustice and defend democracy in Ukraine.

But some of those fighters say that some of their comrades came just to seek adventure or escape from problems at home.

Reasons aside, many foreign fighters have been killed, as Business Insider's Cameron Manley previously reported, with some international survivors saying they were used as a "sacrificial unit."


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