Mariupol, Ukraine In 2018, who was fed up with long hours and travels in London, Sean Piner wanted to travel.
Friends in Ukraine told him about the opportunity to train with the National Guard, so he jumped on a plane. When the law changes and allows foreigners to serve, he enlists in the army.
“I am now married and because my adopted city of Mariupol is threatened by Russian-backed separatists, it has inspired me to stay longer,” the 48-year-old section commander told Al Jazeera in the Far East of Ukraine. “I feel the need to protect the Ukrainian way of life, even though I am not Ukrainian.
As world powers struggle to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine, soldiers on Ukraine’s front line are being watched by enemy drones. They avoid snipers and live in trenches surrounded by snow, fighting Russian-backed separatists.
And along with the thousands of Ukrainian troops stationed at the border, there are a handful of British soldiers like Piner who have a sense of duty.
While the United Kingdom is considering a large-scale deployment of NATO in Eastern Europe, it has not yet sent additional troops to the country, fearing it would lead to further escalation.
British soldiers here now served in the Ukrainian army before the last tensions began.
They say they will continue to fight for a country that is not theirs, despite fears of large-scale military action.
“It’s been that way for years,” Piner said. “This is just news for Europe, which has finally woken up to what is happening here.”
In its part, the 1st Marine Battalion, there are three British citizens and one Croat, as well as Ukrainian citizens – and “the friendship is great,” Piner said.
One of the Britons is Aiden Aslin, 28, a private who previously fought against ISIS with the People’s Protection Squad (YPG) in Syria.
Despite his previous experience, he said this war was mentally burdensome because of the style of battle: trench warfare.
The front line has not moved since the ceasefire agreement was signed in 2015, so troops remain in place for six to nine months.
“It’s mentally exhausting, the threat of danger is constant, and something as simple as going to the bathroom can hurt you because drones can throw grenades,” he said, adding that the cold is down to -30 C (-22 ° F). in winter – is brutal.
Since the conflict began in 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and backed separatists in two breakaway territories in the east of the country, at least 17,000 people have traveled to Ukraine to fight for militias. both sides of the division.
Many are from Russia or former Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan and Georgia, but according to the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs, up to 1,000 Westerners have joined the battle.
Some are guided by political beliefs, on the far right or far left of the spectrum.
“Conditions at the front are bleak, especially in the winter. We are constantly monitored by enemy drones, we are often given pleasant surprises. “Snipers are always a threat, and sabotage in the trenches is a great danger – separatists come in at night and set traps, mines or cables on the trenches,” Piner said.
He served for nine years in the Royal English Regiment and is now one of the oldest in his unit.
“I always have something to prove,” he said.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Liz Truss announced that the United Kingdom was ready to deploy more forces in Estonia. The UK currently has more than 900 troops based there, as well as 100 troops stationed in Ukraine and approximately 150 troops in Poland.
London has already sent anti-tank weapons for defensive use, and the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales is now ready to move in hours if tensions rise further.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson is on a visit to Kiev on Tuesday and officials will finalize the details of the proposal for British troops at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, this week.
At the same time, the United Kingdom and the United States have stepped up their rhetoric about the threat posed by Russia, and some British and American officials and dependents have been withdrawn from their embassies in Kiev.
Last week, the United Kingdom said about 60 Russian combat groups were already on Ukraine’s border, and the United States said there were indications that Russia had deployed supplies of blood and other medical supplies for its troops.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has downplayed the current threat, saying the country has been threatened by Moscow since 2014.
In addition to visiting Kiev, Britain’s Johnson will hold talks with Putin this week, while Trus and Defense Minister Ben Wallace will travel to Moscow for talks with Russian counterparts in the coming days to help ease tensions.
“The UK’s support for Ukraine so far is really good compared to other countries,” Aslin said.
“I hope that our prime minister and other MPs can push harder to increase support and provide more equipment.