The Ukrainian army has been supported by volunteers from across the globe and around 20,000 people from 52 different countries have joined Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s foreign legion.
Yet over half of the Belgians who volunteered to fight in Ukraine have already returned, two Belgian soldiers confirmed to Het Laatse Nieuws. 18 volunteers from Belgium left for Ukraine while 120 Belgians registered to volunteer, the Ukrainian embassy in Brussels confirmed. Yet over half of them have already returned.
“I was injured when air missiles completely destroyed our military base,” said Jacques Martin from Flémalle near Liège to Het Laatste Nieuws.
Initially, all went according to plan for Martin, who was sent to a military training centre of Yavoriv in the region of Lviv, less than 25 km from the Polish-Ukrainian border.
Yet the forces were scattered, with two Belgians immediately sent to the front. The military base itself was bombed on 13 March.
“They thought we were in a non-conflict zone because the base is near Poland, but it’s Ukrainian territory,” Martin said. “After Putin’s warning against the legion, we should have known this. The attack was a warning, a clear message. Before I knew it, I was thrown ten meters through the air by the enormous force. It was a truly apocalyptic situation. I passed out, broke my right arm and lost my full hearing for over four hours.”
In the days that followed, Martin stayed in the area to help his team and look for survivors. He slept rough in the woods but was eventually sent to a hospital where his commander told him to go home and recuperate. Yet he was keen to point out that his “contract was not broken. As soon as I’m fit again, I hope next week, I’ll be back.”
“The rocket attack has opened the eyes of many,” said another Belgian volunteer from Bruges to Het Laatste Nieuws, who opted for anonymity. “To my knowledge, there are only four Belgians there.”
The fighter from Bruges had served in Afghanistan and worked with foreign affairs, thereby choosing a more organizational role. However, “the chain of command was reorganized several times,” added the anonymous fighter.
“There are also many American volunteers who seem to know it all much better. So my post was actually abolished for an American and I didn’t feel like serving as foreign cannon fodder.”
Other Belgians left at the same time as him, the volunteer from Bruges confirmed. He noted the number of “naive” Belgians without proper military experience.
Martin agreed: “It was chaos there. Too many fighters had never held a machine gun in their hands. They still had to learn everything. Professional soldiers lost an enormous amount of time training them while they wanted to help at the front.”
Their contract allowed them to leave immediately. Remaining fighters were sent to the front and there is no longer a training centre, according to Martin.
The Ukrainian defence ministry now only accepts volunteers with military experience.