Ukraine commander says he’s received 600 applications from UK amid Nato involvement fears

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British military veterans are flocking to join the fight for Ukraine’s freedom, despite warnings that their involvement could drag NATO into the conflict.

Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of a paramilitary group of foreigners that has been operating in the country for eight years, said he had about 600 applications from Britain, with dozens of former soldiers already on the front lines or in training camps.

“At least 100 Britons are fighting,” he said. “They are good fighters – they are among the best soldiers because they are well trained and well motivated.”

The revelation will alarm British ministers and military leaders who fear imprisoned Britons could be used by Vladimir Putin to expand the war with retaliatory attacks on NATO countries

The revelation will alarm British ministers and military leaders who fear imprisoned Britons could be used by Vladimir Putin to expand the war with retaliatory attacks on NATO countries

The revelation will alarm British ministers and military leaders who fear captured Britons could be used by Vladimir Putin to expand the war with retaliatory attacks on NATO countries.

“Nothing good will come of British servicemen or veterans going to Ukraine to be part of this,” Armed Forces Secretary James Heappey warned last week.

But when I visited a secret training camp in Ukraine on Sunday, Mamulashvili called a group of about 40 recent recruits from a classroom and called on all Britons to pose for a photo. Sixteen stepped forward.

Although one or two such recruits have spoken to the media before, this was an astonishing display that underscores the number of British volunteers who want to join the Ukrainian resistance.

Almost all of them asked to keep their identities hidden.

“My parents don’t know I’m here,” one of the younger men said. ‘I told them I was going to Poland as a humanitarian volunteer. I don’t want them to worry.’

Another said he had served in the British Army for five years and that he was inspired to join Ukraine’s struggles by the resistance of its president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

He insisted: ‘We all know politicians are liars, but he seems different. This is a fight for freedom.’

He added that because he grew up in foster care, he was driven to join Ukraine’s struggle in a personal mission to prevent families from being torn apart and children being forced to grow up without their parents.

Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian National Legion, a voluntary militia that is part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, let me visit his camp on the condition that I keep the site confidential. “The Russians are trying to find our location and target us,” he said.

His battalion was established in 2014 by Georgian veterans to fight the pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas in gratitude for the support of Ukrainians during their own country’s struggle against Putin’s invading forces six years earlier.

After driving to a prearranged location outside a few shops, three uniformed men with guns swept the area before an Albanian recruit—AK-47 dangling over his shoulder—guided me through a heavily armed checkpoint to meet Mamulashvili.

Destruction after an apartment building hit by Russian attack in Kiev, Ukraine

Destruction after an apartment building hit by Russian attack in Kiev, Ukraine

Destruction after an apartment building hit by Russian attack in Kiev, Ukraine

“We want people who know what they are fighting for,” he said. “This is the only place in the world where you can defend freedom today. And it’s not just freedom for Ukraine, but for the whole world.’

I watched as Mamulashvili officially inaugurated the British who had arrived in his unit the previous day and presented them with his legionary insignia featuring a Georgian wolf against the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine.

Among those who answer his call is Yorkshireman Matthew Robinson, 39, a former soldier and US military contractor in Iraq, who arrived last week after traveling from his home in Spain.

“I want to test myself, push myself, stand for something,” he said. Robinson stressed that he also wants to pay for aiding an “unjust” war in Iraq. “I got blood money in Mosul. Now I take the opportunity to make no money and do something good for an honorable cause. I feel like I’m catching up on my time in Iraq.’

He admitted that his parents and three sisters are “not thrilled” with his decision. It comes after more than a decade of enjoying sports such as sailing and skydiving while living off income from rental properties purchased with money earned in Iraq.

He said: “After a few good years of doing nothing but sports-oriented activities, I wanted to give something back and work hard. Then I can enjoy my life again, maybe a little more respect.’

Robinson, originally from Whitby, known nerves. “Everyone’s scared. Anyone who isn’t is lying to themselves – or a very brave man,” he said. “You’re running around with an AK-47 with no air support.” He traveled here with the aim of joining the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine – a military unit set up by Zelensky at the beginning of the invasion with a call to foreigners.

The unit has been compared to the international brigades of the Spanish Civil War, including 1984 writer George Orwell, who fought with the Republicans against General Franco’s fascists.

Robinson speaks of the Georgian Legion as ‘a band of brothers’. However, the British are concerned about the shortage of body armor, helmets and weapons.

“There is a possibility to go to Kiev, but we need some intelligence and some equipment before we go to the front,” Robinson said.

The unit has been compared to the international brigades of the Spanish Civil War, including 1984 writer George Orwell, who fought with the Republicans against General Franco's fascists.

The unit has been compared to the international brigades of the Spanish Civil War, including 1984 writer George Orwell, who fought with the Republicans against General Franco's fascists.

The unit has been compared to the international brigades of the Spanish Civil War, including 1984 writer George Orwell, who fought with the Republicans against General Franco’s fascists.

Mamulashvili – who claims to have been imprisoned by Russian troops when he fought alongside his father nearly 30 years ago at the age of 14 – said he was hiring more than 20 foreign volunteers a day, mostly from Georgia, the UK and the US.

“I don’t see hundreds of Italians coming to say they want to fight for freedom, I don’t see French people coming to fight for freedom,” he said with a smile.

The recruits are sent to the front, usually after five days of training, to join army brigades fighting across Ukraine.

He added: “They need a military background because we don’t have time for training.”

While British army chiefs admit that a few serving troops did not follow orders and may have traveled to Ukraine to fight “in a personal capacity,” the Georgian commander said he did not accept such recruits and recently sent home a 21-year-old British soldier.

British volunteers were previously involved in the Donbas fighting, including at least two now involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the Mariupol war.

Although Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said she supports British citizens who want to travel to fight Ukraine, the government is advising against all travel to the country.

Additional reporting by Kate Baklitskaya

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