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returning to war

Ukraine's volunteer foreign fighters include many vets who struggled with civilian life

An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 foreign volunteers are fighting for Ukraine, and several of them told The Washington Post that being there has given them a renewed purpose.

At the onset of the war last February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for volunteers to help his military, and Ukrainian officials said by the spring, about 20,000 people from more than 50 countries answered the call. A majority left before the summer, taken aback by how intense the fighting was and the lack of air support, and those who remain "tend to be highly committed, willing to withstand the winter conditions and to overcome the language barriers and cultural tensions that occasionally flare," the Post's Jeff Stein writes.

Most of the foreign fighters are with three battalions of the International Legion. One fighter, a 30-year-old British military captain, told the Post he had a hard time transitioning to a desk job. "The war has been a terrible, terrible thing for Ukraine, but the last nine months have been the best, most enjoyable of my life," he said. "I can't go sit in an office and do PowerPoint for the next 50 years." The man said he almost died in battle in Bakhmut, and "there's a part of me that's doing it for the right reasons, and there's part of me that's doing it for the violence. It's kind of a bit of both."

Some of the volunteers are troubled veterans who struggled with returning to civilian life in their home countries. Some fighters are trying to escape things at home, like criminal cases, and others have no military experience and are on the battlefield for the first time.

About 100 volunteer foreign fighters have died and 1,000 have been wounded since the start of the war, the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo estimates. Joseph Hildebrand, a 33-year-old farmer from Saskatchewan, was one of those killed in action, in Bakhmut. After returning from two tours in Afghanistan, "he literally could not handle it," his wife, Carissa, told the Post. "He started talking to his friends who went over and just felt he had to do it."

You can read more about Ukraine's foreign fighters at The Washington Post.