By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) – A former U.S. military linguist is arming volunteers with Russian phrases like “put your weapon down” before they head to Ukraine to fight. Another U.S. veteran said he was in Ukraine linking volunteers to groups on the ground.
They are among organizers from three U.S. online networks Reuters spoke to this week that are creating underground pipelines of military, medical and other volunteers for Ukraine.
The networks are part of organized efforts to mobilize hundreds of North Americans prepared to fight for Ukraine, as well as thousands of other people across the globe.
“You can learn a few words and phrases that may potentially save your life,” said the former Army linguist, who identified himself as Tex and was compiling terms in Ukrainian and Russian for combat or in the event of capture.
The linguist’s training group is helping military veterans brush up on skills like first aid or marksmanship. Most instruction is online. Some units do physical training together, he said.
The three groups operate behind layers of security, performing background checks and video interviews over concerns Russian elements are trying to infiltrate and sabotage operations. Members stress they are private individuals who have no links to the U.S. government or U.S. armed services.
“There’s been a lot of Russians trying to get in,” said an individual representing one of the groups who identified himself as Checker 1 in a Zoom call. “If something like this were to be exposed, it would be rather harmful.”
He said his network had partnered with a Kyiv non-governmental organization to get international volunteers into the country.
“We work all over Ukraine,” said the U.S. veteran who claimed to be in Ukraine, communicating via the Signal messaging app.
An organizer for another group said it was interviewing candidates, forming units and matching them with groups in Ukraine.
Messages from potential volunteers in Liberia, South Africa and the Netherlands came into the network’s online group as the organizer chatted.
“There is a trickle of volunteers arriving daily and reaching their desired volunteer locations,” said the organizer, who asked not to be named.
BABY WIPES, BODY ARMOR
Speaking on his Telegram page, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday said 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Ukraine has formed an “international legion” for the foreign force.
Several organizers estimated the number of Canadian and U.S. volunteers heading to Ukraine was still in the dozens rather than hundreds.
Ukrainian forces are seeking international reinforcement after Russian forces on Friday surrounded and bombarded several cities in the second week of an invasion launched by President Vladimir Putin.
Of the more than one dozen potential volunteers Reuters spoke to in the United States and Canada, only a third said they had military, law enforcement, medical or conflict-zone experience.
With limited resources, volunteer networks are focused on training and placement of military veterans in combat roles.
As well as the networks, there are a host of individuals paying for air travel or offering advice.
Canadian tech entrepreneur Vish Vadlamani considered fighting then decided he could be more useful sponsoring volunteers and using his software programming skills to help refugees.
He said he and associates have raised about $20,000 in unused airline credit to cover airfares for volunteers.
An American has created a 32-page Google document with information ranging from how to enlist in the Ukrainian army to an alphabetical packing list that starts with baby wipes and body armor.
“I do not recommend that anyone who does not speak Ukrainian or Russian and does not have military experience join the Ukrainian military,” said the man in a video call, who asked that his name not be used, and identified himself as Kiwi.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Donna Bryson and Cynthia Osterman)