At least 16,000 foreign volunteers are coming to help fight Putin’s army, says Zelensky

Volunteers will ‘join the defence of Ukraine, Europe and the world’, says president

Ukranians jeer and shout at Russian soldier reportedly holding live grenades

At least 16,000 people from overseas have volunteered to fight in Ukraine against Russia’s deadly onslaught – and some have already started arriving, the country’s president has said.

Former soldiers, emergency responders and civilians from countries including the UK, US, Canada and Europe are preparing to put their lives on the line in the largest ground war in Europe since the Second World War.

They came forward after president Volodymyr Zelensky issued an extraordinary plea for foreign citizens to help fight Vladimir Putin’s army.

In a video posted on Facebook, Mr Zelensky said foreign volunteers would “join the defence of Ukraine, Europe and the world”.

“Ukraine is already greeting foreign volunteers. The first 16,000 are already on their way to protect freedom and life for us, and for all,” he said.

Twitter Spaces, WhatsApp groups and websites have sprung up detailing how to join a newly-established foreign legion, as The Independent has reported.

Users have been swapping tips on how to cross the border into western Ukraine and discussing what equipment to bring.

“Ukraine receives weapons every day from our partners, from real friends. Every day [we receive] more and more powerful weapons,” Mr Zelensky said, adding: “We have nothing to lose but our own freedom.”

Dozens of men turned up at the Ukrainian embassy in London earlier this week, volunteering to go to fight and saying they were willing to die to defeat Russian troops.

One, Leon Dawson, told Sky News: “We don’t want to die. We’re obviously scared. But if we’re scared, we can imagine how the innocent women and children feel.

“I can’t sit here and just let that happen.

“In years to come, I think a lot of young men in our position will regret not being involved and not helping.”

And around 100 people from Scotland have signed up to fight, according to officials at the Ukrainian consulate in Edinburgh.

“Their entry into Ukraine will be simplified to the maximum extent possible,” Mr Kuleba said.

One Scottish former soldier, Joe Stirling, who is planning to go to fight within hours, said: “People need help. Countries and nationalities aside, it’s humans going to help other humans.”

The areas held by Russian forces in Ukraine

Mr Stirling, who has previously served in Iraq, told the BBC’s World at One: “If I was a bricklayer, I’d go and build hospitals. If I was a doctor, I’d go out and give people first aid.

“It just happens my trade is soldier, so I’m going out to fight.”

Mr Zelensky has temporarily lifted the requirement for entry visas for foreigners willing to join up.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the government had created the new battalion called the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine after receiving hundreds of requests from foreigners to join the fighting.

He urged citizens to sign up at Ukrainian embassies in their home countries.

UK foreign secretary Liz Truss has said she would “absolutely” support British nationals who went to help fight the invasion, but defence secretary Ben Wallace urged Britons not to go. Labour has also advised Britons against fighting in Ukraine.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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