Ukrainian veterans in Poland prepare to re-enlist as Russia tensions mount

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WROCLAW, Poland (Reuters) – Dmytro Dovzhenko, 40, has been living in Poland with his wife and two children since 2019, running a business handling anything from hairdressing to beauty to food.

But he still wears a large signet ring with the inscription “Loyal forever” from his military marine unit back home in Ukraine. And, if Russia invades his home country, he will report for military duty, ready to fight, as soon as he can.

“If there’s a war, a battle… I only need 24 hours. Within 24 hours, I’m back in the military,” Dovzhenko, who is from the central Ukrainian city of Poltava, told Reuters from his home in Wroclaw, a city in western Poland.

Washington has said Russia, which has more than 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine, could invade at any moment. Moscow denies having any such plans.

Dovzhenko, who runs a foundation of Ukrainian veterans across the European Union, says he is one of an estimated 700 soldiers in Poland who would be ready to return home to take up arms.

He suspects that, taking into account all 10,000 Ukrainian veterans across the EU, the number of those ready to re-enlist is substantially higher than 700 – likely closer to 7,000.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Veterans said in an emailed statement there are no statistics on how many veterans from the conflict that started in 2014 are abroad but there are a total of 420,000 people registered as having once defended Ukraine.

The veterans who are readying to go back now are also better prepared than the Ukrainian soldiers who took up arms in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to fight separatists after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, members of the foundation told Reuters.

“We will be able to give even more of our professionalism, our experience this time… If you’ve already done it once, it’s very easy to do it again,” said Ukrainian veteran Serhii Sklarenko, who asked Reuters to use a modified last name to protect his identity.

He and Dovzhenko showed Reuters pictures from their time fighting in 2014 and the years that followed, pointing out weapons from the 20th century and a hodge podge of military attire donated by the Germans, Canadians and other nationalities.

Since then, the Ukrainian army had received substantial international support and was much better armed and trained.

“Now we have modern weapons, modern medicine. We have everything we need,” Dovzhenko said.

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Yuriy Tokar, the Ukrainian consul in Wroclaw, said he expected many Ukrainians to help not just by enlisting to fight but also by collecting resources from the diaspora.

“Gathering various necessary items (clothes, food, medicine) for our army and also financial support are very important,” Tokar told Reuters. “There’s no need to go to Ukraine to provide such support.”

He added he didn’t expect a mass exodus of Ukrainians, as countries like Poland have warned.  Ukrainians, instead of migrating, were trying to register for gun licences en masse in order to defend themselves, Tokar said.

Jurii Kubrytskyi, a 49-year-old lawyer by training from Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine, said he would be ready to return and enlist for the first time if war were to break out.

He had already run campaigns collecting essential items, ranging from personal hygiene products to food to special military attire, for soldiers in eastern Ukraine back when he lived in Cherkasy. He’d also worked as a police officer.

But despite his comfortable job at an accounting office in Poland, he told Reuters he was now ready to die for Ukraine if needed.

“Weapons do not fire. People fire and Ukrainians know how to shoot and want to shoot,” Kubrytskyi said. “I am a citizen of Ukraine, Ukraine is my country. I’m certain that it is my duty to defend my country.”

PHOTO- People take part in a protest ‘Warsaw solidary with Ukraine’ at the Parade Square in Warsaw, Poland, 17 February 2022. The protest was organized by the Union of Ukrainians in Poland to support Ukraine amid the crisis at the Ukrainian-Russian border. EPA-EFE/Tomasz Gzell

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