Ben Aitkin, who at 18 is the youngest known Briton who has travelled to fight in Ukraine, has spoken of a lack of organisation, training and equipment for those who opt to join the Ukrainian side against the Russian invasion.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, Mr Aitkin told how he had narrowly missed being caught up in the shelling of a military base near Lviv, which killed dozens of foreign soldiers.
Mr Aitkin said: “You can't trust these people to look after you whilst you're in this area. It's disorganised mayhem, you’re ill-equipped, you’re going out, you’re very poorly armed.
“As long as you understand reality, that you will be used as cannon fodder, then if you're at peace with that and you think that you can help, I'm not going to stop anybody. I can say there are other options out there, fundraise, donate, join an NGO, do whatever you can, but just dying senselessly, it’s not brave, it’s stupid.”
Mr Aitkin volunteered to fight in Ukraine in March with no combat experience, other than basic training as a military cadet. He flew to Krakow in Poland before making his way to the border to join the ‘International Legion’ of foreign volunteers.
He was immediately told his three-month tour of duty would in fact be three years and that within 24 hours, he would be posted to Donetsk – the scene of some of the war’s heaviest fighting.
The volunteer said: “We were given a representation of the Legion and then we were shown the actual Legion. They contrast each other quite starkly.”
Hours before being shipped to a military base in Yavoriv, just outside Lviv, Mr Aitkin decided not to fight and left to work with an NGO supplying food and supplies in the country. The next day the base was hit by 30 Russian cruise missiles, killing dozens of foreign volunteers.
Former Royal Navy engineer, Curtis, from Cornwall, also joined other foreign fighters. He told presenter Cathy Newman of a similar experience with the Legion. He has asked for his surname not to be disclosed.
“There was absolutely no structure to it at all, nothing at all,” he said. “There was a Ukrainian officer who was in charge of the whole entity and left to our devices essentially for the first few days, and it was chaos, absolute chaos.
“Most of the ex-serving, whether it’s Navy, Army, Marines, even the Air Force, some guys were there – they were within a decent age, 30 and above, but there were a lot of young guys who had never been in any serving military, had no military training at all, kind of Call of Duty-type people.”
Curtis, 30, passed through the same military base in Yavoriv, but left just ten hours before the fatal missile strike.
He then fought in Irpin where he found a similar chaotic situation. “There was plenty of guys that we were with without helmets, without enough magazines sometimes to fight with effectively,” he said.
“We were using essentially supermarket radios, which are not at all decent for fighting with, Russians can listen to everything we were saying and it was highlighted many times.”
Asked how many British fighters he thought were in Ukraine and how many may have died, Mr Curtis replied: “I think it’s probably in the high hundreds went out there originally. A lot of guys left after the initial Lviv attack and realised it’s not a game. I would say 20-plus British have died.”
Channel 4 News asked the Foreign Office how many British citizens had gone to Ukraine, were missing and had died.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said they did not know exactly how many British citizens had travelled to the country or lost their lives there.
They added: “We advise against all travel to Ukraine and that British nationals should leave Ukraine immediately if they judge it is safe to do so.
“Our priority is supporting those remaining British nationals and their families who are trying to leave.”
Channel 4 News contacted Mr Aitkin and other Ukrainian volunteers after they were listed as “foreign mercenaries” in a document shared on the pro-Russian social media channel, Rybar, along with more than 100 other British citizens. Channel 4 News has analysed the list and spoken to many of those named. Many of them, like Mr Aitkin, were aid workers and volunteers, not fighters.