British volunteer James, 22, from Manchester, only told his parents he had joined the Georgian National Legion after entering Ukraine – and initially said he was traveling to help refugees
This picture shows a pair of heavily-armed Brits who are in Ukraine ready to take on Vladimir Putin’s troops.
Armed with AK-47s, they are seen wearing masks as they flank their commander at an unknown location inside the war zone.
The duo are among an estimated 20,000 foreign nationals who have traveled to Ukraine to fight since the conflict erupted.
The Mirror interviewed them via phone from their base in Ukraine.
One of the duo – who gave his name as James, from Manchester – arrived in Ukraine two weeks ago and is one of around 15 Brits to join the Georgian National Legion.
The international band of volunteers have answered Ukraine’s call for foreigners to help fight against the Russian invaders.
James, 22, says he initially told his family he was traveling to help refugees and only later revealed his real intention to ‘fight for freedom’, despite having no military experience.
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He told the Mirror: “I only told them the truth when I got here as I’m not good with goodbyes.
“My mum was very supportive but my dad was a bit like ‘ugh’. I think they were worried for me.
“They are proud I am standing up for Ukraine but scared for my safety. If it comes down to it I am willing to die for this cause.
“I know I may never return home but if I die I’m dying for freedom.”
James says he was unemployed when the war in Ukraine erupted, although he said he used to work in warehouses, changing jobs every few weeks.
He said: “I’d been following the conflict in Ukraine for a while and then it blew out of the water.
“I thought the only way I could help was getting boots on the ground. I caught a flight to Poland and then hitch-hiked to the border.
“I contacted the Georgian National Legion online and they came and picked me up from near the border.”
Since arriving two weeks ago, James says he has enrolled in basic training, with target practice, infantry tactics and first aid lessons taking up much of his time.
He said: “They’ve given me a Kalashnikov rifle. It’s the first time I’ve shot a gun.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting. I got a bit of an adrenaline rush when I shot it, they aren’t toys.”
James said the dangerous reality of his new life became apparent within a few of joining the Georgian National Legion.
“On the first night, I’d only been here a few hours when there was an air raid. It made it feel very real,” he said.
“There have been air raids basically every night. It’s crazy.”
The Brit added that Ukrainians are grateful that he and other foreigners are volunteering to fight against Russia.
“People really appreciate that we’ve come here. The people don’t feel alone now and that gives me a warm feeling in my heart,” he said.
On Sunday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said 20,000 foreigners had applied to join Ukraine’s military, with James revealing that there are around 15 British volunteers in his unit.
He called on Boris Johnson to provide more supplies to Ukraine, including Stinger anti-air missiles.
James says he plans to stay in Ukraine until the war is over and hopes to become a part of the country’s official armed forces in the future.
Another Brit – who identified himself to the Mirror as Thomas, 25, from London – has also signed up with the Georgian National Legion.
Neither James nor Thomas wanted to reveal their surnames or their location in Ukraine due to security fears.
Thomas told the Mirror he hopes to halt Putin’s territorial expansion by pushing back the Russians in Ukraine.
The former British Army soldier said: “First of all it was Georgia, now it’s Ukraine and next it will be London.
“It’s a three-hour flight here, it’s quicker than going to Manchester and I would defend Manchester.”
Thomas says he decided to volunteer in Ukraine after realizing that the people were willing to stand and fight for their country.
He said: “I wouldn’t have come here if the people weren’t defending the country.
“Also when I saw civilians were dying I thought ‘it’s time’. I want to make sure we are in this fight for as long as possible.”
He added: “I got to Ukraine about a week ago. I first arrived in Warsaw and made my way to the border.
“When I got to the border if you are resourceful enough it’s a breeze (to cross). I met the Georgian National Legion at the border and they took me to where I am now.
“At the moment I’m doing some training. I’m going through training in small arms, medical, battlefield casualty drills (BCD).
“I’m also training other recruits and making bombs. I want to get the recruits ready and work with them when we do go out.”
Thomas found out about the Georgian National Legion through mutual friends, including one pal who volunteered to fight Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine years ago.
He quashed the belief that foreigners being thrown straight into battle after traveling to Ukraine.
“There seems to be this hysteria that people are coming over, picking up a rifle and running off to the front line. It’s delusional,” Thomas said.
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“For the Georgian National Legion this is a long-term plan. We are not rushing in untrained.
“We are not war tourists. We are not getting handed rifles and being sent straight to the front.”
Thomas served four years in the British Army and worked a string of menial jobs after leaving, he said.
He echoed calls for Mr Johnson to send Ukraine more supplies, including military uniforms, and said he had just one message for Putin: ‘Glory to Ukraine’.