Foreign Fighters Integrated Into Ukrainian National Guard

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral parliament of Ukraine, recently passed Law No. 8090, officially integrating foreign fighters into the National Guard of Ukraine and its subordinate units.

Here+are+members+of+Ukraines+National+Guard+in+the+Donetsk+region., CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Here are members of Ukraine’s National Guard in the Donetsk region.

On January 12th, 2023, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral parliament of Ukraine, passed a law in order to officially integrate foreign volunteers into units within the National Guard. The law would replace previous Ukrainian doctrine regarding foreign volunteers within their ranks. 

All current and future volunteers will be granted citizenship through simple procedures, giving them full legal status as official members of Ukraine’s military, possibly completely changing the role foreign service members will play in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. However, the law’s effects could prove to be controversial.

Prior to this, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada was urged to update their armed forces policy on foreign fighters. The original policies placed strict migration regulations upon volunteers. 

Under the direct jurisdiction of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), foreign service members who had, according to the Ukrainian State Migration Service, “signed contracts to serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine…shall be considered as legal temporary residents on the territory of Ukraine for the period of contracted service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” The status as a temporary resident would complicate traveling to and fighting in Ukraine, and leaves their status to the Russians as combatants of war unclear and ambiguous. 

Regardless, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba claimed that by March of 2022, 20,000 volunteers from 52 countries had taken advantage of the original procedures and joined the International Legion. Although a great boost to the morality of Ukraine’s cause, the laws that had allowed these volunteers to serve in Ukraine legally restricted them within the military as well. Before the update of law No. 8090 in January 2023, volunteers could only join units within the AFU, such as the famed International Legion, but not the National Guard of Ukraine. 

But with the new change in policy, these volunteers can now serve in Ukraine with far fewer restrictions. The law aims to ensure the legality of a volunteer’s stay in Ukraine. Temporary residential status will no longer be necessary, as the law calls for a simplified process to apply for and be granted citizenship. 

Volunteers can now legally enlist in National Guard units, easily immigrate and travel throughout Ukraine, and be given all necessary legal documents to cement their status as a Ukrainian citizen and combatant. The process to be granted citizenship may likely be through applications from the Ukrainian Migration Service.

The change in policy is bound to draw in many of those eager to join the Ukrainian cause. Various units throughout the National Guard have suffered heavy casualties. A resupply of manpower will prove vital to rebuilding these units and returning them to fighting condition.

But this could have its drawbacks, as seen with the Azov Regiment. In 2014, in an effort to reorganize their manpower, the National Guard incorporated all Ukrainian volunteer battalions and paramilitary militias into their ranks, making them official government units. The reorganization would legitimize these paramilitaries, as well as grant them access to training, additional funding, and weaponry. 

However, the additional strength would not come without its flaws, with the Azov Regiment having strong ties to neo-Nazism. Founded as a far-right militia, they adorned various nazi symbols on their uniforms and insignias, ultimately playing a large part in Russia’s rationale behind their “denazification” policies. 

With the National Guard now available to incoming volunteers, far-right and neo-Nazi units such as the now legitimized Azov Regiment can legally start accepting foreign volunteers into their ranks. This poses an international threat, as it gives those with neo-nazi leaning ideologies open access to military training, weaponry, and combat experience. The more available that the Azov Regiment and their ideology becomes to the world, the more difficult it will be for international parties to continue with their support for Ukraine.

Neo-Nazism isn’t the only major problematic issue. Although Western media outlets have effectively kept Ukrainian casualties under wraps, a desperate call for even more foreign volunteers completely contradicts the casualty count. Joseph McDonald, a former serviceman and foreign volunteer of the International Legion, explained in an interview that the legion is a valuable asset to the Ukrainian international cause. It symbolizes international support and any significant number of foreign volunteer casualties would be a serious media victory for Russia. 

In passing this law, the Ukrainian government is exposing its wounds. It’s a risk to use internationally valuable volunteers in combat, and even more so to place them into units with neo-Nazi affiliations. 

Ukraine’s National Guard must rebuild their strength. After heavy battles, the regiment and many like it have suffered heavy losses. Reinforcements are needed, but it seems that the military has grown more accepting of wherever these reinforcements are coming from, which is deeply problematic. 

The conflict in Ukraine must come to an end, in order to prevent an endless cycle of enlistment, casualties, and further recruitment.

A special thank you to Max Tsigalnitsky ’24 and Nora Auburn ’24 for assistance in translating Ukrainian government announcements, used to write this article.

On January 12th, 2023, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral parliament of Ukraine, passed a law in order to officially integrate foreign volunteers into units within the National Guard. The law would replace previous Ukrainian doctrine regarding foreign volunteers within their ranks.