An online call for African volunteers to fight for Ukraine against Russia seems very tempting – but there a few things candidates should consider before applying.
The online advertisement promises a $1,000 signing fee and a monthly salary of $3,500: it is aimed, it claims, at ‘African nations with combat experience’ (they might mean ‘nationals’ – it is unlikely that a whole African country will effectively declare war on Russia).
Seems tempting: even a few months of fighting could buy a plot of land or a car, put a deposit down on a house, pay for dad’s medical bills or cover the school and university fees. That salary is considerably more than what most junior soldiers in African armies are paid (although the role is probably considerably more ‘lively’ than barrack duties and the occasional parade).
But before you book your ticket to Kyiv, there are a few considerations to be taken into account by potential liberators of the oppressed and defenders of freedom in Ukraine.
The imagined v the reality
With a proposition like this on the (virtual) table it is easy to let your imagination run away with you: bravery in battle, a rapid rise through the ranks, victory parades, maybe a Ukrainian passport (which might soon also be a European Union passport), a wife and a family, returning home as the conquering hero. But the reality might well be very different.
Firstly, Ukraine in March is very cold and very wet: think about a torrential rainstorm in Kenya, but in a mud-filled fridge (you are inside the fridge). And the lightning bolts are incoming missiles and artillery rounds.
Racism – Not everyone in eastern Europe likes Africans
Secondly, not everyone in Eastern Europe likes Africans. Some of them don’t like Muslims or Asians either. (Some of them hate women too.) Ask any non-white football player who has taken part in, say, the European Champions League, about the abuse they receive every time they touch the ball when they play a game in Eastern Europe.
During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, President Putin deliberately bused all the white supremacist hooligans, known as ‘Ultras’, out of the cities where the games were being played to make sure the tournament wasn’t spoiled by, for example, fat white shaven-headed neo-nazis throwing bananas and making monkey gestures or waving swastika flags. Those buses are now on the Russia-Ukraine border and these are the people who you will be fighting against. (Some Ukrainians are equally racist and there are even reports of Africans fleeing the fighting in Ukraine into countries like Poland and Romania being abused or even denied entry.)
Don’t get caught
You may also wish to consider your legal status as a foreigner involving themselves in another country’s war: the term often used is ‘mercenary’. Don’t be confused by units such as the French Foreign Legion or its less well-known cousins in the Spanish Foreign Legion: they are formed military units in the service of that nation and most of the soldiers are accorded nationality. The Ukrainian ‘legion’ will not accord the same benefits, even if you do survive.
But being a mercenary may seem quite glamorous. The 1978 film ‘The Wild Geese‘ cast the likes of Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore as the soldiers-addicted-to-soldiering (and cash, admittedly): who would play you in the film of ‘The Ukrainian African Legion’? That said, it is worth watching ‘The Wild Geese’ all the way to the end: Richard Harris doesn’t make it onto the plane, nor do most of the others.
There is also the minor issue that being a mercenary is totally illegal and attracts no protected status on the battlefield: if you are caught you will be lucky to be executed on the spot. (Read about Russia’s wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya if you want to know what the other options to a firing squad include.)
Things go nuclear
Ukraine was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, whilst it was part of the then USSR. Many believe that the disaster and the subsequent, risible attempt to cover up the incident were critical in the collapse of the Soviet system.
There are still many nuclear plants in Ukraine and the Russians even shelled one this week. Being close to one if it is ruptured and the nasty insides pour out is agreed to be very unpleasant.
What do we mean by ‘close’? Well, herds of sheep in the UK had to be destroyed after the radioactive cloud that was released by the Chernobyl disaster passed over the UK (via Poland, Germany etc). Have a quick glance at a map of Europe to see how ‘close’ the UK is to Ukraine. (And watch the HBO series, ‘Chernobyl’ to see what radiation does to you.)
There is also the possibility of Russia not just bombing nuclear power plants but actually using nuclear weapons. During the Cold War between the 1950s and the end of the 1980s Europe lived with the constant threat of a nuclear holocaust. Although it was initially thought that nuclear weapons could be used ‘tactically’ (at a local level, destroying, say, a single town) and that a nuclear war would be survivable. The general consensus now is that a nuclear war would not be survivable except perhaps by cockroaches and other well-protected species. (Humans do not count as a well-protected species.)
(Two speculative TV series from the 1980s, Threads and The Day After, convinced the public that a nuclear war was not something that they wanted to experience.)
That said, you would be close by and would probably die instantaneously.
And, of course, you might get shot. The advertisement doesn’t detail compensation, pensions etc – as a general rule, The Kenya Forum advises you to think critically about anything you read online.
See you in Kyiv!