The Monitor, McAllen, Texas
Apr. 14—A Marine from McAllen who joined the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine a few weeks ago offered The Monitor a glimpse into his decision to leave the peaceful South Texas terrain for a country thrust into war after Russia’s invasion in late February.
For security reasons, the Marine won’t disclose his name, but allowed The Monitor to identify him as R.C., a former law enforcement officer recently promoted within his legion.
The soldier used end-to-end encryption apps when StarLink, a communications satellite launched by Elon Musk, was accessible to document his experience.
The conversation was edited for grammar and brevity.
Were friends and family supportive of the decision to leave?
Before I left, everybody I talked to thought it was a really bad idea. Everybody told me not to come. That seems to me like only a couple of my friends understood why I had to come, but no one else did.
It was kind of a relief getting here and meeting up with people who think like me, other Marines, my kind. We all think alike. It’s like we all sprang up and met here. It’s almost like we knew we were going to meet here, whether anyone else outside of our group understood or not.
People are worried. People don’t understand why we have to come. “It’s not our country,” that sort of thing. But I grew up in the 80s. Russia was the problem back then. “Terrorist” was a new word. Back then we were training on how to fight the Russians, and here we are all these years later making a full circle.
How did you get there?
Initially, they had asked people to contact the Ukrainian embassy closest to where they live. I made many attempts to do that, but it was either busy or I got no answer.
So, I would say that if anyone is serious about coming to fight: get your passport in order; buy a plane ticket and get over here. You can join the foreign legion once you’re in the country.
I bought a plane ticket that could get me the closest to the Ukrainian border. So, I flew into Rzeszow; it’s about 50 miles from the Ukrainian border.
When you join the foreign legion, you do sign a contract, and you do become a Ukrainian soldier in the foreign legion.
Are there any skills you must have?
You need military experience, for sure, and combat experience. And if you’ve done tactical [training] in law enforcement that helps, too. Without it, you’re not going to get very far.
Being with other people who served in the U.S. military, it all comes back. Of course, a lot of my law enforcement experience also came into play. That helped, because it deals with tactical training.
What was your first day like?
Once I was there, I started talking to the people, trying to get a feel for things.
In Poland there was always someone who spoke English. Most of the employees at the hotels there who I encountered spoke English.
Then someone at the hotel hooked me up with someone they trusted in the cab business, and I paid them to drive me to the border the next day.
I did get to see the lines of people waiting to go through the border guard stations. But I also encountered people who were heading the other way, back into Ukraine.
I ran into a couple of girls, they were like two sisters. One of them was in her 20s, and the younger one was probably a teenager. They were having trouble with a bag and I helped them carry it all the way over through the border guards and into Ukraine. They told me they were going back because their parents were there, and their parents didn’t want to leave.
The Ukrainians, if they haven’t been bombed, they are going about their business as usual. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t have fear, or if they’re so upset and full of pride that they’re not going to let anyone shut them down.
What does a typical day look like in Ukraine right now?
Even though it is spring, it still snows and gets very, very cold.
It is physically demanding, I can tell you that. I’m in my 50s, and if anyone my age is coming they better be in some kind of shape, and I don’t mean round as a shape.
The average age of the volunteers are men in their 30s.
One of the things that really impressed me is that there are wild dogs everywhere. They’re all strays, but I haven’t seen any dogs that look unhealthy. It’s like everyone in Ukraine takes care of all the dogs and I really love that in this place.
Everywhere we go, dogs attach to us. These dogs go wherever we go.
If they bark, we listen.
What motivated you to go?
The West is helping any way it can while considering political strategies to avoid a bigger armed conflict. I get all that, and it is all necessary. Without this, the world would have seen more wars throughout the years. But I also live within reality.
You see, we are already at war with Russia. But because of these things that I have mentioned, the West cannot realize it. They are prolonging the inevitable by waiting for Putin to tell them that they are at war with Russia.
In the meantime, Ukraine is paying the price of freedom for all of Europe. I see Ukraine as the Alamo of Europe and that’s why I came to help. If we don’t win the fight in Ukraine, we will be fighting Russia in a lot of other places. If things turn out that way, I can already see Europe using the battle cry, “REMEMBER UKRAINE!”
Everybody I talked to had the exact same response as to why they came here. Some of them were knowledgeable about history, like I am, so they kind of knew what would happen if Russia wasn’t stopped here. But, on a more human side, most of these folks wanted to come here because of what they saw on television — women and children being taken out of rubble; women and children being targeted for artillery shelling, missiles, bombs, and they couldn’t stand it anymore.
What happens if you get captured?
I don’t think about that.
When will you come home?
I would like to see a peace deal. I would like to see that people are safe, that the elderly, women and children are safe. A lot of us feel that way. It’s not just me. I haven’t met anyone who has a timeline.
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