Ukraine has dropped its visa requirement for foreign nationals volunteering to defend the country from Russian invasion, after US veterans complained that red tape and bureaucracy were slowing their efforts to join the resistance.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on Monday night to temporarily lift visa requirements for foreigners traveling to join its International Legion of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.
Usually, American and European visitors staying longer than 90 days within a six-month window must apply for a tourist visa.
The “temporary visa-free regime” went into effect immediately on Monday night. It does not apply to Russian nationals.
The move came one day after Mr Zelensky announced the creation of the international legion and issued an appeal to foreign nationals to travel to Ukraine and fight “side by side” with its troops in defending the country from attack.
Since then, officials said that several thousand people from around the world have volunteered to serve with Americans and Britons among those who have applied.
The easing of visa requirements paves the way for more foreign nationals to fight and comes after US veterans told The Independent about their frustrations over the absence of any clear path for them to head to Ukraine.
Volunteers are being told to apply through the Ukrainian Embassy in DC but said their efforts are being held up as emails and phone calls are going unanswered and the embassy website appeared to have gone down.
John Murphy, a former Marine, said he was still waiting to hear back from the embassy after he first reached out volunteering his service on Thursday.
He voiced fears that these delays are wasting precious time when Ukrainian troops could be using ex-military members like himself to shore up their defences.
“If they don’t get the help they need soon then Russia will take Ukraine,” he warned.
He said he had been inundated with messages from around 100 other people who are also struggling to enlist in the legion.
“There’s no real information. The only information is to get to Poland and once you’re there go to the border crossing and say I’m here to join the legion but that doesn’t leave a lot of room,” he said.
“And that will be the largest detractor for anyone with combat experience as you don’t want to jump on a plane to Poland and turn up and all you have is a slingshot to fight with.”
Mr Murphy said he felt a duty to respond to Ukraine’s appeal for help as he fears that if the West doesn’t take action to stop Vladimir Putin’s forces now, things will only get worse.
“I see 60-year-olds in Ukraine who have worked as butchers and candlestick makers and they are defending the country when there’s people like me who have spent years in the military and in law enforcement and so have the skills and are just sitting around,” he said.
“It’s not that I want to go but the way I see it, if we don’t stop Russia’s aggression now, it’s going to escalate into something even worse.”
He added: “If the world as a whole was to stand up and say it’s not acceptable behaviour... well you can’t fight the whole world.”
James McCall, who served eight years in the US Army including a tour of Afghanistan, told The Independent that he is also still waiting to hear back from the embassy after emailing and calling several times with an application.
If he doesn’t hear back soon, he said he will “just hop on a plane and go to Poland”.
Mr McCall said that he feels he has a responsibility to go to Ukraine because the world’s democracy and freedom are currently at stake.
“This is an attack on freedom worldwide and an attack on democracy and if we let it stand then it will continue to grow and overflow everywhere else,” he said.
“We as the free people of the world can’t stand by and let this happen. Zelensky asked for help and it’s my duty as an American to help where I can.”
He also said that he - and many of his “brothers in arms” - feel they have no choice but to act because the response from the US and the rest of the West has fallen short.
“Sanctions are great but it’s not enough. I feel like we’re not doing enough and I don’t stand alone,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of brothers in arms who feel the same way.
“In the history of America we’ve always helped other countries and this is no different.”
US officials - and their Nato counterparts - have insisted that US troops will not be sent to Ukraine to engage in combat because it is not a Nato country.
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