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To combat Russia, Ukraine invites foreign fighters. Here’s how to apply

March 5, 2022 4:30 pmby Illia Ponomarenko
A reservist with Ukraine's 130th Territorial Battalion takes aim during drills in Kyiv on Feb. 12, 2022. (The Kyiv Independent)

Ukraine, as it combats Russia's full-fledged invasion, is rapidly creating its own International Legion, a military force composed of international volunteers enlisting to help defend Ukraine. 

Three days after the start of Russia's further invasion, on Feb. 27, Ukraine's leadership announced the opportunity for foreign volunteers, expecting the dire need for manpower to combat the offensive.

As soon as on Feb. 28, Ukraine's Defense Ministry had received "several thousand" applications from foreign nationals willing to join Ukraine in war. 

According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine is expecting as many as 16,000 foreign volunteers to join the legion.

To make it easier for foreigners to enlist to defend Ukraine, on March 5, the government launched a website which provides guidelines for potential legionnaires. 

In many ways, Ukraine's International Legion revives the legacy of the International Brigades, the much-romanticized volunteer formations fighting for the Republican Government during the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1938.

The legion is expected to be part of the country's Territorial Defense Force, a newly established branch of the Armed Forces. The legion will start with two newly formed battalions.

Reservists with Ukraine's 130th Territorial Battalion take a break during drills in Kyiv on Feb. 12, 2022. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)

According to Ukraine's Presidential Administration, anyone, except for Russian nationals, supporting Ukraine's cause is welcome to try and enlist, whether they have combat experience or not. 

To start with, one should approach a Ukrainian embassy or consulate in their country. It can be done by phone, email or in person. The website provides a complete list of Ukrainian diplomatic missions around the world that recruits can approach. 

The Ukrainian diplomatic mission will provide a potential recruit with the necessary information on the equipment they should have. Next, a recruit will undergo an interview with a Ukrainian military attaché and receive a special visa.

The service with the International Legion is fully official and legal. With all visa arrangements completed, a recruit also needs to submit an application for voluntary contracted service with Ukrainian armed forces, following instructions from the Ukrainian defense attaché. 

"It is recommended that legionnaires obtain combat gear, such as fatigues... or equipment, or a helmet, armored vests, and so on," the Presidential Office said on March 5.

"If necessary, embassy and consular service members will render assistance in terms of transportation." 

Recruits should then make their way to Ukraine and sign a military service contract to actually take up duties with the legion. Foreign service members will be fully equal to Ukrainians in terms of their duties.

Notably, even beyond the legion, contract military service in Ukraine is fully legal for foreign nationals both in the Armed Forces and the National Guard.

Read also: Want to help Ukraine’s military as a foreigner? Here’s what you can do

Illia Ponomarenko
Author: Illia Ponomarenko

Illia Ponomarenko is the defense and security reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He has reported about the war in eastern Ukraine since the conflict’s earliest days. He covers national security issues, as well as military technologies, production, and defense reforms in Ukraine. Besides, he gets deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations. He has also had deployments to Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an embedded reporter with UN peacekeeping forces. Illia won the Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship and was selected to work as USA Today's guest reporter at the U.S. Department of Defense.

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