They rushed to Ukraine by the thousands, many of them Americans who promised to bring military experience, money or supplies to the battleground of a righteous war. Hometown newspapers hailed their commitment, and donors backed them with millions of dollars.
Now, after a year of combat, many of these homespun groups of volunteers are fighting with themselves and undermining the war effort. Some have wasted money or stolen valor. Others have cloaked themselves in charity while also trying to profit off the war, records show.
One retired Marine lieutenant colonel from Virginia is the focus of a U.S. federal investigation into the potentially illegal export of military technology. A former Army soldier arrived in Ukraine only to turn traitor and defect to Russia. A Connecticut man who lied about his military service has posted live updates from the battlefield — including his exact location — and boasted about his easy access to American weapons. A former construction worker is hatching a plan to use fake passports to smuggle in fighters from Pakistan and Iran.
And in one of the more curious entanglements, one of the largest volunteer groups is embroiled in a power struggle involving an Ohio man who falsely claimed to have been both a U.S. Marine and a LongHorn Steakhouse assistant manager. The dispute also involves a years-old incident on Australian reality TV.
Such characters have a place in Ukraine’s defense because of the arms-length role the United States has taken: The Biden administration sends weapons and money but not professional troops. That means people who would not be allowed anywhere near the battlefield in a U.S.-led war are active on the Ukrainian front — often with unchecked access to weapons and military equipment.
Many of the volunteers who hurried to Ukraine did so selflessly and acted with heroism. Some have lost their lives. Foreigners have rescued civilians, aided the wounded and fought ferociously alongside Ukrainians. Others raised money for crucial supplies.
But in Europe’s largest land war since 1945, the do-it-yourself approach does not discriminate between trained volunteers and those who lack the skills or discipline to assist effectively. [Continue reading…]