As many as 20,000 foreigners descended on Ukraine this spring to join the ranks of the Ukrainian National Guard’s volunteer battalions. Their numbers are thought to have dwindled considerably since then, with thousands killed, injured, captured, or fleeing the country after witnessing war crimes or experiencing abuse by their paymasters. In the first months after the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, the country was flooded with “civilian” volunteers from Western countries whose only knowledge of warfare consisted of playing video games, a British mercenary who returned home after sustaining serious injuries has said.
30-year-old Josh Griffiths, a resident of Surrey, England, told local media that shortly after he made his way into Ukraine in early March, a fellow Brit with a military background whom he had met encouraged him to get on a plane and head home, and told him that the merc forces consisted of “a lot of civilians who had just played too much Call of Duty.” Griffiths, an ex-soldier who served in the British Army’s Royal Engineers from 2012-2017 and who had a tour of duty in Afghanistan under his belt, ignored the advice, and said that he would spend the next three weeks evacuating civilians to the Polish border with another Brit whom he had met.
In April, he traveled to Kiev and hooked up with the so-called “International Legion,” a notorious fighting unit of English-speaking foreign volunteers whose leadership even Ukrainian media has recently called out for its propensity to send fighters on suicide missions, to engage in war crimes, as well as to abuse and physically intimidate volunteers. Griffiths said he spent several weeks defusing landmines and booby-traps, but that eventually he opted for a direct frontline role.“
So when I saw the devastation, there were times when I was stood there in floods of tears and I just felt like I wasn’t ever doing enough to help. It was only once I was fighting, and doing things like pushing the Russian forces back, that I felt like I was affecting the war in some way,” he said. The merc said he and a group of nine troopers eventually traveled to Donbass, where they patrolled, supported snipers, planted mines, and got into firefights.
Griffiths was severely wounded in July while out on patrol, with his unit hit by mortar fire, and bits of mortar rounds piercing his leg, shoulder, chest, and arms and leaving him bloodied. He was taken to a field hospital to receive emergency care, and slipped in and out of consciousness on the verge of death. His condition eventually stabilized and he began his recovery. The left side of his body was severely mangled, and he suffered a blown shin and shattered calf bone, a shattered rotator cuff shoulder, and a broken collarbone. The merc has been left unable to lift his left foot or wiggle his toes.
During his recovery, Griffiths got a medal from the Ukrainian government, and after four weeks in a Ukrainian hospital, shipped back to the UK to the Royal Surrey County Hospital and then to St. George’s in London for plastic surgery. British doctors have given him a 50/50 shot of ever being able to use his left foot again.Despite his predicament, the merc said he did not regret his decision to leave the UK, his two young children, and his estranged girlfriend to go fight in Ukraine.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely gutted I got hit and if it doesn’t get any better then it will have been massively life-changing. But I don’t regret going out there. My team is still out there – in fact I got some terrible news yesterday that one of them was shot and killed. When I hear things like that I think how lucky I am and that I’ve maybe had my nine lives. But at the same time, as crazy as it sounds, if I do get back up and running again then I’m still toying with the idea of going back out there,” Griffiths said.
The fighter has indeed been lucky, with the Russian military and Donbass People’s Militias regularly reporting on the elimination of entire squads of foreign mercenaries in fire fights and precision missile and artillery strikes. Authorities in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have charged multiple mercs with war crimes and handed down severe sentences, including the death penalty to discourage others from repeating their folly.