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French Volunteers Plan to Head to Ukraine to Join its New Foreign Legion

todayMarch 3, 2022 1

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PARIS — Only days ago, Ugo was sitting in a classroom in northern France studying for his final exams. But, now, he is making plans to travel to Ukraine to help the country in its fight against Russia.

Ugo, 22, who asked to be identified by only his first name for fear of potential repercussions, said on Tuesday that he did not have “extensive financial resources” that could provide relief to Ukraine.

“The only thing I think I can do for them is to go there,” he said.

And Ukraine is welcoming him and other volunteers with open arms. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has implored people across Europe to help, and hundreds have responded, according to news reports from countries like Britain and Sweden.

The volunteer response seems to be the latest and perhaps most striking development in a growing wave of international support for Ukraine, just as Russian forces are moving to encircle Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and as shelling in and around key cities is intensifying.

On Sunday, Mr. Zelensky said that his country was setting up a foreign legion, the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine. The same day, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said on Twitter that he was inviting “foreigners willing to defend Ukraine and world order” to reach out to Ukraine’s foreign diplomatic missions.

Mathieu Dos Santos, 34, a French real estate agent, said he planned to leave France soon with a group of fellow volunteers. “I’m going to help our European compatriots,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian people. He added that he was doing so “in the continuity” of his “commitment” to serve France, as a former member of the French Army.

Mr. Dos Santos said he and his group did not plan to fight on the front lines, but would strive to provide medical aid, “protect civilians fleeing” the war and organize their arrival in Western Europe.

Ugo, who also served in the French Army, said he started looking last week for ways to help Ukraine. Unable to find groups organizing foreign volunteers, he said, Ugo took matters into his own hands and created a Facebook group, which now has more than 7,000 members.

He said he planned to leave France on Friday with about 40 other people, most of whom are former army members. Ugo said they planned to play “a defensive role” by patrolling streets, helping civilians and possibly responding to Russian firefights.

Ukraine’s Embassy in France has itself been active on social media, pleading for foreign volunteers. The embassy’s Facebook page provides information for foreigners willing to fight in the war, including documents to fill out for Ukrainian authorities. An embassy spokeswoman told the French news media that “many French people are calling us.”

France has not publicly commented on these volunteers.

On Thursday, France updated its travel advice for Russia, saying that it was “strongly” recommending that French citizens who were not there for “essential” reasons should leave. The French Foreign Ministry also said that travelers should show “increased vigilance” because of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia. On Monday, the ministry “formally advised” French citizens “not to travel to Ukraine until further notice.”

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.

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