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Russia-Ukraine war: How invasion is attracting mercenaries - not just foreign volunteers

Private military contractors tell MEE that hundreds of 'professionals' are being hired for jobs in Ukraine, with some joining Kyiv's international legion
Ukrainian servicemen take positions at the military airbase Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region (Reuters)

Last week, as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Kyiv announced it would accept international volunteers to help battle Vladimir Putin's forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also established an “International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine” and lifted visas for volunteers. Ukrainian officials say 16,000 have volunteered to join the fight.

However, sources told Middle East Eye that there are also private military contractors with significant war experience among the volunteers. The sources said some of the private contractors had arrived in the country for extraction, evacuation and defence purposes having been hired by private companies.

'I decided not to go, but people with significant military experience who also speak the local language from Slovakia, Poland and Latvia have gone to Ukraine'

- Private military contractor

A job advertisement that appeared this week on Silent Professionals, a listing website for defence and private security jobs, is looking for multiple “extraction and protective agents” to conduct evacuation operations of individuals and families throughout Ukraine's countryside and major cities.

“Employer is a US-based corporation. Both male and female agents are welcome to apply,” the advertisement says.

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“Only highly experienced candidates who possess at least 5+ years of military experience in this region of Europe will be considered for this role.”

The ad says the payment would be $1,000-2,000 per day and a bonus will be available after the completion of the operation.

An advertisement seeking private military contractors for work in Ukraine (Screenshot)

Two private military contractors of Turkish origin with European citizenship told MEE that there were other companies hiring people for similar jobs with a daily payment as high as 2,000-3,000 euros.

"Volunteers are going, that's true, but professional soldiers are also going," said the first private military contractor, adding that as of 2 March, the number of "professionals" going to Ukraine exceeded a thousand people. About 100 of them were from the French Foreign Legion, he said.  

“The French Legion told them that they shouldn’t take any identification with them and if they are caught, they didn’t have the permission to go,” the contractor said.

'We would like to make a point by accepting these volunteers, allowing the world to show solidarity with us'

- Ukrainian official

“I decided not to go, but people with significant military experience who also speak the local language from Slovakia, Poland and Latvia have gone to Ukraine.”

The French foreign ministry told MEE that permission was not granted, describing it as "fake news". On Wednesday, the French Foreign Legion said it had prevented 14 of its soldiers from travelling to Ukraine, and 25 Ukrainian-born troops had deserted.

A Ukrainian official said that the government wasn’t hiring any private military contractors, but only accepts volunteers to its own foreign legion.

“They will be treated as a fellow Ukrainian military member and have the same rights,” the official told MEE. “A regular Ukrainian army member makes $3,500 per month. So they will make the same money.”

The official emphasised that the Ukrainian military had enough soldiers in its ranks, but it wants to showcase to the world that Ukraine is defending democracy and international values.

“We would like to make a point by accepting these volunteers, allowing the world to show solidarity with us,” the official said.  

Vetting for extremism

The contractors said that some Turkish people who live in Europe were also intending to go to Ukraine, but their departure has not been sorted yet.

“Those in private companies or legions mostly prefer to go in small groups,” said the first military contractor, who has worked for various companies in different parts of the world.

The contractor said “professional private contractors from the industry” and general volunteers have been using similar routes to Ukraine to fight the Russians. “If you are in Europe, it is enough to travel to Poland or Romania and contact the Ukrainian embassies,” he said. “Those who travelled to Ukraine gathered in Lviv in the west of Ukraine and were assigned somewhere else.”

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The contactors added that there has been a sharp increase in Ukraine-related private military job postings. “Many private companies based in the US and Europe run job advertisements for Ukraine with at least $1,000-2,000 daily payments and extra earnings,” the second contractor said.

The Ukrainian government said that any volunteer could make an application to a defence attache with their passports and documents that show they have military service and combat experience.

Then the volunteers go through a vetting process for extremism and terrorist links. The government said once the volunteers enter Ukrainian territory under the direction of the Kyiv government, they will sign a contract to join the foreign legion.

Russia already has battle-hardened Chechen forces in its ranks who have been deployed to Ukraine.

Some Chechen and Georgian volunteers also filmed themselves offering to fight for the Ukrainian military even before Zelensky said he would be accepting the foreign volunteers.

The private contractors also told MEE that they heard that Russia had also deployed infamous Russian state-linked private Wagner forces to the Ukrainian front. Wagner mercenaries are known for their far-right views.

The contractors said it was smart for Ukraine to accept foreigners with military experience, especially ex-special forces. “You cannot beat the Russian special forces in urban warfare with an armed general public,” the second contractor said. “They [foreign fighters] would be effective against Wagner as well."

However, the contractor said he wasn’t personally planning to go to Ukraine.

“I started to work in this industry to make a lot of money,” he said. “You wouldn’t have a lot of luck against the Russian special forces, Wagner or the Chechens in an urban war.”

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