Most mercenaries return home disappointed, having never been to the front. “I’m lucky that I’m still alive at all, we walked on the edge of a precipice.”
Three mercenaries who requested anonymity described to La Presse how promises of weapons and protective equipment which were made by the leader of their unit, never materialized. According to Wali, joining a Ukrainian military unit was a hassle for most Western volunteers.
After a few weeks, the most trained mercenaries were selected by the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine and, according to them, began to be involved in operations behind enemy lines. The rest roamed around rented housing and waited until someone agreed to take them into their squad.
The last straw was the combat mission, in which the mercenaries acted together with Ukrainian conscripts. At their position, which was under fire from Russian tanks, two Ukrainian soldiers were incinerated. Wali had tried to stop them, but they would not listen. A few seconds later, a shell flew at them “with pinpoint accuracy”.
“The explosion was terrible. I suddenly lost my hearing and felt a headache. It was tough.” Wali realized that the Ukrainians could no longer be helped.
“It smelled of death. It’s hard to describe, a terrible smell of burnt flesh, sulfur and chemicals. An inhuman smell.”
After that, Wali called his wife. “He tried to explain that he had witnessed two deaths. He said, I think I’ve done enough already, haven’t I? I’ve done enough? Like he wanted me to tell him to come home,” she told the newspaper.
For most of the mercenaries who crossed the border, the process of finding a unit they could join was chaotic and agonizing: “[Ukrainian president] Zelensky called everyone, but the officers on the ground were completely helpless. They didn’t know what to do with us.”
Wali himself and several other Canadians joined the Normandy Brigade, a private mercenary force commanded by a retired Canadian soldier from Quebec with the call sign “Hrulf”. However, members of the brigade immediately began to show discontent, and many deserted. Three mercenaries told La Presse that Hrulf promised them weapons and protective equipment, but in the end did nothing.
Some of the volunteers found themselves some 40 kilometres from the Russian front without body armour. “If there had been a Russian offensive, everyone would have been at risk. It was an irresponsible attitude on the part of the brigade,” said one, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons.
The desertion of mercenaries was confirmed by the commander of the “Norman Brigade” Hrulf himself. According to him, about 60 people deserted in total. Some wanted to conclude a contract on terms that would grant them combatant status and guarantee medical care at the expense of the Ukrainian authorities. Others tried to set up a scam to steal $500 000 provided by the Americans.
To find a weapon, one had to go through Kafkaesque adventures. “You need to know someone who knows someone else who will say that in this old barbershop they can give you an AK-47. You had to cobble together a soldier’s kit like that by picking up bits and pieces of ammunition left and right, in many cases with weapons in questionable condition,” he explained.
Mercenaries also obtained food and gasoline themselves. “Even food was often given to us by civilians. The same with gasoline to fill up the car. You constantly needed to find something, to know the right people.”
“Many expected everything to be easy and simple, but in war it’s the other way around. It was a terrible disappointment,” Wali concluded.
Ultimately, the sniper said, he himself fired only two shots at some windows “to scare” the enemy, and in reality was never in the enemy’s range of fire. “This is a war of technology, where the brave Ukrainian soldiers suffer heavy losses under fire and miss a lot of opportunities due to lack of technical training.”
The Ukrainian army was built up by the US and NATO over the past 8 years. Ukrainian soldiers trained at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in the Lviv region of western Ukraine right up until the Russian invasion in February. The most recent trainers were part of Task Force Gator, composed of the Florida Army National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to the US Department of Defense.
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