British soldiers go AWOL ‘to fight in Ukraine’ over fears Putin could claim UK has entered war if captured

Ministry of Defence confirms ‘small number of soldiers’ have disobeyed orders amid reports personnel have travelled to Ukraine frontline

Matt Mathers
Thursday 10 March 2022 02:23 GMT
Watch live footage of Kyiv skyline amid Ukraine crisis

Defence chiefs have warned military personnel against travelling to Ukraine to fight Russia over fears several soldiers have gone Awol to take on Vladimir Putin’s troops.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said said it was aware of “a small number” of soldiers who had “disobeyed orders and gone absent without leave, and may have travelled to Ukraine”.

Reports suggest that at least four British military personnel had absconded to join the front line in Ukraine.

Among them is a teenage Coldstream Guardsman, who abandoned his post protecting the Queen to travel to Ukraine, according to The Sun.

The 19-year-old left a note for his parents after booking a one-way ticket to Poland, the paper said, adding he planned to then cross the border to link up with Kyiv’s armed forces.

The BBC said a defence source had confirmed the soldier was absent without leave.

The MoD declined to comment on individual cases, but a spokesperson told The Independent: “We are aware of a small number of individual soldiers who have disobeyed orders and gone absent without leave, and may have travelled to Ukraine in a personal capacity. We are actively and strongly encouraging them to return to the UK.”

A spokesperson said all service personnel are prohibited from travelling to Ukraine until further notice. “This applies whether the service person is on leave or not,” they added, before warning any personnel who denies the order will  “face disciplinary and administrative consequences”.

All travel to Ukraine is banned under official UK military advice. Military chiefs are said to be concerned that, if captured, the soldiers could be used as an excuse by the Kremlin to accuse Britain of entering the war.

The advice states  that going to Ukraine to fight, or to assist others engaged in the conflict, may be against the law and could lead to prosecution.

The UK also has limited consular support in Ukraine and is unlikely to be able to offer assistance to anyone in the country.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Press Association Images)

It is understood that UK defence officials are keenly aware of the desire among many Britons to help Ukraine after the Russian invasion, but the only support they can provide is defensive in nature.

The UK said it is working with its allies to provide a range of support to Ukraine, including to enhance that nation’s defence capability.

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who served in the Scots Guards, has previously urged Britons not to travel to Ukraine to join the fighting as he said the “very dangerous” situation could lead to them being killed.

Mr Wallace has said he does not “want to see British people killed any more than I want to see Ukrainians” dying after  Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, earlier said she would “absolutely” support British nationals who chose to go to help fight against the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian armed forces simulate a crisis situation in an urban settlement in the abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl plant in the weeks before the Russian invasion (AP)

Downing Street later effectively contradicted Ms Truss, as Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “We think the best way we can help Ukraine right now is by ensuring Putin fails.

“There are a number of ways Brits can show their support for that, and the Ukrainian embassy in London is putting out information about how British people can support.”

The spokesman added: “We fully recognise the strength of feeling about British people wanting to support the Ukrainians following the Russian invasion. There’s advice up on travelling to Ukraine, we currently advise against travel to Ukraine.”

Two weeks of war in Ukraine were marked on Wednesday morning.

Both Ukraine and the MoD said the Kremlin’s assault on capital Kyiv has for days failed to make any major progress and its advances across the rest of the country are slowing. Russia, meanwhile, insists the war is going as planned.

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