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Want to help Ukraine's military as a foreigner? Here's what you can do

by Illia Ponomarenko January 31, 2022 10:29 AM 3 min read
A Ukrainian Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter pilot pictured following a training flight at the 204 Tactical Aviation Brigade in Lutsk on Jan. 15, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

As Ukraine's allies in the West send military aid to bolster the country's defenses against the possible Russian military escalation, there are ways for individual foreigners to help Ukraine, too.

Here's how foreign citizens can participate in defending Ukraine against Russia, should there be an invasion:

Donating money

Every dollar makes a difference when there are many people ready to donate – and Ukraine's army knows this from experience.

In 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine and the Ukrainian military was disorganized and destitute, thousands of Ukrainians donated money, warm clothes, or various hardware, such as used cars or laptops, to the regular army and volunteer formations.

It is widely believed that the civilian volunteer fundraising movement has greatly helped to put Ukraine's military back on its feet and help it fight back Russia.

Some foreigners, particularly from the U.S. and the Baltic nations, joined the movement, fundraising at home for Ukraine's military.

In 2022, after years of record-breaking defense budgets and reforms, Ukraine's army is equipped much better than in 2014 – but supplies are still far from perfect. Civilian charities and volunteer assistance projects are still around, providing troops in Donbas with what the official military system fails to give them.

Foreign citizens can help by donating money to such projects.

The Kyiv Independent responsibly recommends Come Back Alive (Povertaysya Zhyvym), a Kyiv-based charity, for this purpose. Over the years of war, this organization has won the reputation as one of the most trustworthy and accountable charities working for the military in Ukraine.

Come Back Alive provides Ukraine's military with auxiliary equipment, specialized software, drones, personal body protection, training, and other supplies.

On its website, the charity provides instructions on how to donate, from Ukraine or abroad, and posts financial reports.

Joining home guard

For those who live in Ukraine and want to get involved on a bigger level, there is good news – a foreigner can actually stand up next to their Ukrainian neighbors and join the emerging Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.

This brand new branch of service is just in the making, but volunteers can already enlist.

Read also: Who can and can’t join Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force

The new National Resistance Act has entered force on Jan. 1 , giving this new organization a structure and statute.

The new territorial defense force is for everyone fit for service and willing to help defend their local communities as a part-time soldier. The new bill envisages creating 25 territorial defense brigades, one for every Ukrainian region, excluding Russian-occupied Crimea. That's nearly 150 territorial defense battalions formed in each district enlisting up to 130,000 men and women, all volunteers.

Territorial defense unit members are going to keep their civilian jobs, stay with their families – and only assemble for military drills and exercises in their own towns and cities from time to time. The purpose is to keep the home guard fit for combat.

In wartime, the territorial defense force is expected to assist the military in combat and rear service.

To join, one must be between the age of 18 and 60, be fit for service, and not have a criminal record.

Foreign nationals who have legally resided in Ukraine for at least five years are also welcomed.

Those willing to enlist need to approach a local military recruitment office. In Kyiv, the 130th Territorial Defense Battalion is active. It has all the necessary information on its Facebook page and now welcomes candidates.

Soldiers with Kyiv’s 130th Territorial Defense Battalion practice during urban warfare drills on March. 30, 2021 in Kyiv. (Kyiv’s 130th Territorial Defense Brigade)

Active military service

Foreign nationals, especially those with experience in the military, can also consider going as far as to join the Armed Forces or Ukraine's National Guard as active service members.

This is legal under Ukrainian law, which enables the military to sign official service contracts with foreign nationals or stateless persons.

According to the law, this option is open to physically and mentally fit foreigners with no criminal record, between 18 and 40 years of age, who can apply for positions of enlisted soldiers or non-commissioned soldiers. Under certain exemptions, the age limit can be extended to 60.

Similar to Ukrainian recruits, foreigners would have to undergo basic training for up to three months and will be paid equally with their Ukrainian mates. The first contract can be signed for three years.

Some foreign nationals, though not many, coming from the U.K., Belarus, Azerbaijan, Sweden, and other countries, have served with various Ukrainian military formations, including in the war zone of Donbas.

Foreign veterans of Ukrainian military formations are entitled to apply for Ukrainian citizenship under a simplified procedure.

To try and join the Ukrainian military, one also needs to approach a local military recruitment office in Ukraine for further instructions.

We serve no one but our common values
“We truly need popular support, especially during wartime. Being not dependent on a single money bag telling journalists what to do has always been quite a task in Ukraine. In wartime, that’s even more important.”
Illia Ponomarenko, defense reporter
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