The first time I was in Ukraine in 2019. Then I was struck by how patriotic Ukrainians are and how clearly they see the future of their country. I was struck by Maidan Nezalezhnosti and the determination of people to rebuild their country. In my opinion, Ukraine is following the same path that the United States followed in the struggle for independence after the civil war. She was bloody. But as a result, we as a country, in fact, were born again and built our ideals from scratch. I followed Ukraine with great interest after the Maidan, but after my trip in 2019, I began to follow the development of the situation even more closely — the economy and politics. I want to walk this historical path together with the Ukrainians and help them as much as I can.
Maybe that's why the decision to join the Foreign Legion of Ukraine was easy for me - perhaps even too much. I myself was surprised at the ease of my decision. On February 24, when the invasion began, I became seriously angry: the historical neighbors cannot leave Ukraine alone, give it the opportunity to decide its own fate - without interference and bullying.
On the day of the invasion, I told my employer in Mexico that I would most likely go to fight in Ukraine. They didn't believe me. Two days later I quit. He planned to join the Foreign Legion at the Ukrainian embassy in Poland. I bought a ticket, flew to Poland, stood in a giant line of refugees and realized that the easiest way would be to come to the border and persuade them to accept me.
I hitchhiked to the border, where I was picked up by a car in which four more Ukrainians were returning home. They were on their way to a country they might not have been able to leave because of a new law that bans men under 65 from leaving. For me, this was evidence of the determination of the Ukrainian people to win the war.
When I finally got to the recruiting center, I was greeted by two officers. They didn't speak English at all, but they treated me very well. They gave me almost a lifetime supply of cigarettes and constantly shook my hand. I went to several recruiting centers because no one knew what to do with me. In one of them, employees called somewhere and said that they had an American here who wanted to fight. In the end, I was picked up by two officers and taken to a base in Yavorov near Lvov, where, as was widely known, foreign volunteers were stationed. I passed the interview, the military assessed my skills and experience. I seem to have left a good impression. I was immediately assigned to a special brigade, which was planned to be sent to the front in Kyiv two days later.
“They constantly shook my hand, but they didn’t know what to do with me”
Our team consisted of 25 people with a wide variety of combat experience - in the chaos of the war, we quickly realized that some lacked professionalism and courage. They had absolutely nothing to do in a war of this magnitude. I don't know how they got into the group. But in general, this is often difficult to determine until the battle begins.
We were armed, they gave me a Belgian FAL rifle, made in Japan, with Japanese characters on it. This is a 5.56mm automatic assault rifle with a switch to semi-automatic mode. Later, I realized that this is not the best weapon for the dirt and cold of the still, in fact, winter Kyiv. The rifle often jammed, at some point after the first shot, I had to disassemble it, clean it and put it back together. I felt like a soldier in Washington's army in 1777.
"I felt like a soldier in Washington's army in 1777"
I spent three days in Yavoriv, then we were sent to Kyiv. Upon arrival, we were given an hour to prepare, although before that we had not slept all night. We loaded weapons into two trucks, which were also used by a detachment of Georgian volunteers. The Georgian detachment consisted of people aged 18 to 58, and they were truly formidable fighters, one might say, with the aura of real mountaineer warriors.
At that time I had not yet seen a single map, not a single report on the situation, I did not know where we were going. It was very strange and I was nervous. The closer we drove to the front, the louder the shelling was heard and the destruction was visible. We disembarked about four kilometers before the trench line, passed through the edge of the forest and reached the village, pushing the Russians back, but then there were still reports that a couple of Russian detachments remained in the village, preparing an ambush. Fortunately, they didn't succeed. We proceeded further through the forest, and the shelling intensified. I have never seen such intense shelling, although I myself am a mortar. It was artillery and mortars. Looks like 105mm caliber, judging by the shrapnel and impact area.
When we got to the trenches, I immediately noticed that they were shallow and poorly fortified. There was a feeling that they were either temporary or just dug out. They immediately opened fire on us. I had no idea where we were, because no one said anything, I didn’t see the map either, I only saw a small city in front of the trench. That firing is the only moment in my life when my rifle fired more than one shot without disassembly and reassembly.
The nature of the battle was very similar to the First World War. I immediately realized that I would have to adapt to such conditions. Our team split up, a third of the fighters went forward to the village of Moshchun (a settlement in the Buchansky district of the Kyiv region - The Insider) to equip positions for sniper fire there. On the very first night, they came under very heavy shelling. The Russians were constantly shelling the building in which our team was, and we brought them down one by one. As a result, there were more than 70 bodies of Russian soldiers in front of the house, some of them were still alive and moaning. I then sat in a trench in relative safety, but the situation worsened because no one commanded us. We just didn't know what to do. Fortunately, one of the Ukrainians knew English. He provided us with food and directed the movement of the detachment members between the trenches. He did not have an order to do this, he was an ordinary soldier who himself decided to help us. He was nicknamed "The Maniac" because he did crazy things with absolutely no regard for personal safety, but he was also a very nice, polite person.
For several days we were constantly shelled day and night. From time to time the Russians approached our trenches about three hundred meters and opened fire. My rifle periodically failed. I couldn't help it and fired back only when I could. Most of the time I just lay at the bottom of the trench. Every day we lost our foreign fighters who deserted. They ran at night in groups of two or three through the forest. One of them, leaving, deliberately damaged two machine guns. He, you see, wanted the enemy not to capture them. And then we really lacked these machine guns.
The most difficult moment for me was the situation when I and six other soldiers were ordered to dig a trench and connect two trenches. We were shown the position, and we decided that everyone would dig a single trench for themselves. The Russians tried to take advantage of this and constantly fired at us. At some point, we saw that a Russian drone noticed us and hovered over us. It became clear to me that they were about to open fire on us. I dug my trench as deep as I could, up to my shoulders, and lay down on the bottom. For the next four hours the artillery bombarded our six small single trenches.
Digging even a single trench was not so easy: we had two shovels for six people. When there was no shovel, I dug with my hand. In addition, I sometimes had to shoot back with my rifle, which still had to be taken apart all the time. In it, unlike the Kalashnikov assault rifle, there were a lot of small details. I was sitting in a trench, disassembling a rifle, putting the parts on my knees, and shells were constantly exploding over my head. I had to be careful not to lose details. At some point, I gave up the idea of shooting back, deciding that if the Russians attacked us, I would fight with a shovel or a bayonet. Those were the worst hours of my life. It was March 13 and 14.
“I decided that I would fight with a shovel or a bayonet”
I would be lying if I said that at that time I was not at all afraid and the thought of leaving did not arise in my head. But being one of the oldest members of the detachment, I understood that I would not be able to live in harmony with myself if I did this. And besides, I was inspired by the Ukrainians - they did not even think about leaving somewhere. I looked at them and thought: "If they are ready to stay and die in this trench, then I will stay."
In the end, we were given the order to leave the single trenches and return to the main one, to the detachment. There I was ordered to attack an armored personnel carrier, fortified with a 30-millimeter machine gun, similar armored personnel carriers fired at our trenches with this gigantic caliber. The three of us went out, went through the destroyed area of the city in search of an armored personnel carrier. I myself saw dilapidated houses and, to horror and surprise, I saw in these houses whole families sitting around small fires. How can I turn around and run? As soon as I saw them, I realized that I would not go anywhere and would be there until there was an order to retreat. Fortunately, the same armored personnel carrier was destroyed by a tank, so I handed over my anti-tank missile to the Ukrainian, who was at a distance from my position.
Upon returning to duty, we were informed that the Russians were preparing a new large offensive, in which at least thirty companies were to take part, which were concentrated along our trenches and brought up ammunition. I almost forgot about my useless rifle and so I took a rocket and decided for myself that this would be my only shot. At that moment, I thought again about the possibility of leaving. Who can blame me for this, I don’t even have a rifle, but when I saw Ukrainians with knives, I realized that they were ready to cut the enemy if he got to our trenches.
“When I saw the Ukrainians with knives, I realized that they would be ready to cut the enemy if he gets to our trenches”
Fortunately, there was no attack. The Ukrainians gathered small groups and attacked the Russian positions in the city. The Russians simply lacked the organization to launch an offensive. At that moment, I thought it was better to let them come to us, because we have good defensive positions. Maniac explained to me that as long as we keep attacking them, they get tired and scared. It turned out that this was the case, and no attack on our trenches ever happened.
In the city, I was most afraid of snipers who could reach our trenches. The sniper managed to kill one Ukrainian, one Georgian was wounded in the shoulder. Another civilian Ukrainian was killed. An artillery shell tore apart the muscles and skin of his back - his spine was visible. In fact, when you see that there is nothing to help a person, it hits the nerves a lot, it demotivates.
The eight months that I spent in Afghanistan can be equated to one hour near Moshchun. The situation in Ukraine is completely unlike anything America has been involved in. Maybe there was something similar in Iraq, but there the rebels did not have helicopters and planes.
“Eight months that I spent in Afghanistan can be equated to one hour near Moshchun”
For example, in Afghanistan, a helicopter will always pick up the wounded. An hour later, you're completely safe. And in the war in Ukraine, at its first stage, medical evacuation consisted in the fact that a car drove up, you were loaded into it and taken away under shelling.
On the way to our trenches there was a whole cemetery of civilian vehicles, about two kilometers of destroyed vehicles. I did not notice the symbols of the Red Cross on any of them. They were ordinary civilian vehicles, all full of holes from bullets and shrapnel. I don’t know who drove them, but according to rumors, they were civilians, who, it seems to me, deserve a separate award - they just drove up to the trenches, took the wounded and drove away at maximum speed. If you are wounded in a city, the chances of survival are slim, especially if the wound is severe, because you had to go through enemy lines and wait for a car. For the consciousness of a typical American, it was a psychological trauma - I hoped that if I was hurt, then it would not be hard. I would like the Americans to send armored cars to Ukraine, like in Afghanistan, from which bullets bounce off.
I spent six nights and seven days in Moshchun, but they seemed like an eternity to me. In all this time I slept eight hours. It was very cold, I often woke up in the snow. The Ukrainians had only small blankets, but a lot of cookies and chocolates. There were also pickled cucumbers. I remember drinking very little water because of the cold.
I also remember dogs. Their owners either died or left, leaving their pets behind. And these dogs slept with us in the trenches - they warmed us with their warmth. There was one unpleasant story when I tried to deepen the trench in complete darkness, plunged a shovel into the ground, and there was a dog that I did not see. Everyone was very angry with me, they decided that I did it on purpose. They cursed in Russian and Ukrainian. Another dog was hit by shrapnel. I don't know if she survived or not.
"The dogs slept with us in the trenches - they warmed us with their warmth"
When we were withdrawn from our positions, I spent a few more weeks in Ukraine. In Lvov, for three weeks I helped train recruits from among foreigners. It was an inspiring experience, many of the volunteers are still in contact with me. All of them are fighting now - and before that, some of the guys did not even hold a rifle in their hands.
Russian resources seem inexhaustible. No matter how many tanks and armored personnel carriers the Ukrainians destroyed, new ones immediately went into battle. And the Russians also have some strange willingness to die. I do not want to offend anyone, but historically the Russian army has never been worried about losses among its own. Many of my friends told how entire companies of Russians were killed instantly as a result of an idiotic order to attack some position. In Moshchun, three of us died, but in front of our trenches lay 60 or 70 corpses of Russians. They, completely exhausted, died one by one in front of my eyes from sniper fire. One runs out - they kill him, after him another - and they also lay him down. And so many times. It seemed to me then that they had some kind of inexhaustible supply of manpower. As a person with a Western consciousness, this is incomprehensible to me ... Many of them died for a long time, and no one helped them. I heard them screaming, asking for help.
Ukrainians, on the whole, are very worried about each other, they try to support, save the wounded. At the same time, they firmly stand in positions and do not leave the battle. This is their advantage. There was a case when one or two Russians got close to our trenches at a distance of about thirty meters. One of the Ukrainians took an American AT4 missile, quickly read the instructions, jumped to the edge of the trench, took aim in 3-4 seconds, fired at them and calmly returned to the trench. With all this, bullets constantly whistled around him. He told us: “I hope I didn’t kill them. I just want them to get out of here." He was not at all pleased with what he did, there was no sadism on his part. I often observed such moods among Ukrainians - they did not experience any enthusiasm or excitement from the war, but they were not going to give up either.
“The soldier took an American AT4 rocket, read the instructions, jumped to the edge of the trench, fired and just as calmly returned to the trench.”
No one holds a gun to their head, no one forces them, but if they surrender, they will cease to exist as a people. One of my friends told me a story about how twenty soldiers were sitting in a small trench in their unit under continuous Russian shelling. This trench was supposed to divert attention from more important targets. A week later, out of twenty people, four remained. But none of them left their positions.
Among the foreigners who are fighting in Ukraine today, mostly brave and trained professionals (all sorts of Call of Duty players out there who just want to smell gunpowder are now weeded out by Ukrainians), the idea is widespread that surrender is not an option, no one will go to the Russian Gulag. If I return to Ukraine, I will do everything so that they cannot take me alive and conscious.
I have never been tortured before. I don't want to be in a position to be forced to say something bad about my country or about Ukraine. The Russians know how to do it, and I would not want something like that on my conscience. If I can't pull away with a fight, I'll most likely kill myself.
Looking at the situation in Ukraine, I think that the Russians themselves do not understand why they are doing this. In the occupied territories, a Russian military man will not even be able to calmly go to a restaurant because of the fear that someone will stab him in the back. Ukrainians will stubbornly and mercilessly resist. This will not end well for the invaders. I am sure that Ukraine will not only win, but also return all its territories, including Crimea.
Most of all, I fear that the West will put pressure on Ukraine and demand concessions from Russia. If this happens, I will be very ashamed of the Western countries. Before and after the Second World War, we already sold out Eastern Europe, and I would really not want to see something like that. I am concerned about European passivity and weakness.
Ukraine really needs more modern Western weapons - they can tip the scales in this war on its side. Даже одна рота танков Abrams может уничтожить массу древних российских T-72 и T-64. Главное, нужно помнить: каждая секунда промедления — это, возможно, еще один погибший украинец.