India is among the countries from which volunteers have joined the International Legion, Ukraine’s volunteer military force, and are currently engaged in combat, according to a Ukrainian media report on Tuesday.
Three days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for foreign volunteers to join the International Legion in view of the need for forces to counter the offensive. Ukraine’s defence ministry said on February 28 that it had received “several thousand” applications from foreign nationals. “Foreigners have already joined International Legion and are fighting outside of Kyiv,” The Kyiv Independent tweeted, citing Ukrainian Ground Forces.
“According to the Ukrainian Ground Forces, the volunteers came from the US, the UK, Sweden, Lithuania, Mexico and India,” the tweet added, without giving details. Media reports claimed that Sainikhesh Ravichandran, a 21-year-old from Thudaliyur in Coimbatore, has joined a paramilitary unit of volunteers in Ukraine. He had enrolled for a course in aerospace engineering at Kharkiv Aviation Institute, a leading aerospace university located in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which has been the target of intense Russian shelling in recent days.
Ravichandran is pursuing his fifth year at Kharkiv National University in Ukraine. “A few days ago, officers from the central intelligence bureau made enquiries with his parents to understand his motive to join the Ukraine military,” said an inspector in Thudaliyur who is investigating the case, adding that the details will soon be shared with Intelligence Bureau.
His family informed Intelligence officers that Ravichandran nurtured a passion to join the armed forces. He had been rejected by the Indian Army twice due to his height, but the walls of his room were filled with photographs of soldiers. He also reportedly enquired with the American consulate in Chennai to join the US military but that also did not work out.
According to local reports, Ravichandran went incommunicado ever since the war broke out, prompting his parents to seek help from the Indian embassy in Ukraine. However, he himself contacted his parents, but wasn’t convinced to return home, reports claimed.
However, there have been numerous reports of American and British citizens volunteering to fight with the Ukrainian armed forces. There was no immediate response on the reports from Indian officials.
Under Indian laws, it is an offence for a citizen to participate in fighting in a foreign country. After a India-based Shia group attempted to send registered volunteers to protect shrines in Iraq from the Islamic State, the Union Home Ministry said in an affidavit filed in the Delhi high court in 2015 that Indian citizens cannot be allowed to travel to a foreign country with the “declared objective of taking part in any conflict.” Any attempt to mobilise volunteers to participate in a foreign conflict would be “an absolute contravention of the law and stated policy of the country,” the affidavit laid down.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine expects up to 16,000 foreign volunteers to join the International Legion. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told a media briefing in Kyiv on Sunday that “experienced veterans and volunteers from 52 countries” had applied to join the legion. “The total number of applications is approaching 20,000,” he said.
On March 5, the Ukrainian government launched a dedicated website with guidelines for potential legionnaires to make it easier for foreign nationals to join the legion. “Russia invaded Ukraine – join volunteer troops to fight for Ukraine” is the legend on the home page of the website. “Join the Legion and help us defend Ukraine, Europe and the whole world!” it adds.
There are no visa requirements for foreigners wishing to join the legion. They have to follow seven steps to become part of the legion, including applying to the Ukrainian embassy in their home country and showing up with documents for an interview with the Ukrainian defence attaché and visa arrangements with the consul.