In Ukraine with the soldiers of the International Legion

There are many reasons why a foreigner might enlist to fight a war that doesn't concern him.

One, of course, is money. Permanent contracts in Ukraine pay, on average, about $2,500 a month, an attractive sum for some men who arrived there from countries with few good economic opportunities for them.

But some fighters at the woods post of the 2nd International Legion, created at the direction of the Ukrainian president in the days after Russia's invasion in February 2022, said they were looking for something more.

One soldier, a Pole named Konrad 13, described the war as a calling, even a blessing. Back home, he said, he had a troubled upbringing. Then, at age 41, he felt like he was at a dead end.

Yes, the pay is attractive, says Konrad 13, but so is the sense of purpose.

“When I got here, my life changed,” he said. “I started growing up here. It was an evolution and I felt like my life had come back to me. I have changed and become a different kind of person. This is my family now, my real family.”

Over the course of their rotation – the Ukrainian army forbids saying how long it lasts and how many fighters there are in the unit – the men were involved in repeated clashes with Russians across the street. During the day, fighting flared up every three or four hours, generally lasting an hour. The bombs came at night.

At the end of the shift, with a new group of soldiers arriving to relieve them, the soldiers prepared their backpacks for the journey. But they had to resist: a Russian drone had appeared overhead, at the end of the last trench.

More than an hour passed before Tsygan authorized his men to venture into the open space separating them from the trenches and into a moment of peace.

Before it was time to fight again.

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