Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
In a moving video posted on his Telegram channel, Zelensky referred to the “international legion” of foreign volunteers he sought to defend Ukraine. Earlier this week, Ukraine temporarily lifted visa requirements for foreign volunteers wishing to enter the country and join the fight against Russian forces.
While foreign citizens have been fighting in Ukraine since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists seized parts of the Donbas region, experts who track foreign fighters say the push goes far beyond that ambition .
It’s still unclear where the volunteers are coming from, and Zelensky didn’t elaborate on the subject in his video. So far, most foreign fighters in Ukraine have come from other post-Soviet states like Georgia and Belarus – but media reports suggest there is interest from around the world.
Dozens of Japanese men, mostly former members of the Self-Defense Forces, have applied to fight in Ukraine, according to the Tokyo newspaper Japan Today. The Times in Britain reported that “hundreds of Britons” wrote to the Ukrainian embassy to sign up for the fight. Some in the United States and Canada also enroll in New York. Christian Gonzalez of Yonkers, NY, told the New York Daily News that signing up to fight with the Ukrainians was “a no-brainer.”
“They have a bully who bullies people around him,” said Gonzalez, 35, of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Why not fight for a greater cause? Even if it’s just about getting people out of the rubble. Even if it’s just to help. It is history in the making.
Officials in various European countries have allowed or appeared to encourage their nationals to fight on behalf of Ukraine, but some countries also have laws that could prohibit citizens from traveling to participate in this war. Meanwhile, experts have warned that it is dangerous for those without any military training to travel to Ukraine to fight.
Zelensky praised Ukrainians for fighting back against Putin’s forces, while criticizing the Russian president a week after the invasion.
“And if anyone thinks that after overcoming all this, Ukrainians, all of us, we’re going to be scared, break down or give up – he just doesn’t know anything about us,” Zelensky said, calling on Putin to ” to return to his place”. “He doesn’t know anything about Ukraine. And he has nothing to do here.