A British man who volunteered to join Ukraine’s military fight against Russia says he was turned down after being told he would be “a liability”.
Leon Dawson told Sky News he was willing to lose his life defending Ukraine when he visited the country’s embassy in London to sign up to its “foreign legion” of fighters.
However the 37-year-old, who runs a gym in Molesey, Surrey, said his request was rejected by Ukrainian officials because he has no military experience.
Mr Dawson has now travelled to the Polish border with Ukraine in a van filled with aid – and he says he would still be willing to take up arms if required.
“If they need me to fight then obviously that’s something I’m willing to do,” he told Sky News.
“What I’m not going to do is go there and get myself trapped. I don’t speak the language, I don’t have any of the currency. I don’t have anyone to help me.
“To get trapped there would be obviously very, very bad. I’m trying not to let that happen.”
‘We don’t have resources to train you’
Mr Dawson was one of several volunteers who spoke to Sky News outside the Ukrainian embassy last week, after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she would “absolutely” support British nationals who chose to go to help fight against the Russian invasion.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace later contradicted Ms Truss as he urged Britons not to travel to Ukraine to join the fighting, saying the “very dangerous” situation could lead to them being killed.
Mr Dawson said it was not clear before he volunteered to join the foreign legion that Ukraine would reject offers due to a lack of military experience.
After visiting the embassy and emailing his details to an address it provided, he said he was told not to join the fight in Ukraine because “you’ll be more of a liability than a help”.
He added that the Ukrainian official told him: “We don’t have the resources to train you, we don’t have the time to train you either.”
Mr Dawson told Sky News: “I’m not a stupid person. I understand war is way more than just people shooting.
“To be fair, I don’t think I would be much help shooting. I haven’t used a gun before, I don’t know the language, I don’t know the tactics. I would better put to work doing something else.”
Briton, 60, ‘disappointed’ he cannot join military action
Another volunteer, 60-year-old Brian Grove, said he was given an email address by the Ukrainian embassy to send his details, including proof of any military experience, but he did not receive a response.
The former member of the Territorial Army told Sky News he was disappointed not to be able to take part in the military action against Russia.
“I’m also particularly disgusted that the Foreign Office is threatening volunteers with prosecution when they come back,” he added.
“So much for Liz Truss saying on television that she’ll support volunteers who go out.”
Will Britons be prosecuted for going to Ukraine to fight Russian troops?
- The Foreign Office has told Britons: “If you travel to Ukraine to fight, or to assist others engaged in the conflict, your activities may amount to offences against UK legislation and you could be prosecuted on your return to the UK.”
- The Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 bans Britons from fighting in the “military or naval service of any foreign state” that is at war with a country that the UK is “at peace” with.
- As of February 11, the Foreign Office has advised Britons against all travel to the whole of Ukraine and has urged British nationals to leave the war-torn country.
- The British Army has said all service personnel are banned from travelling to Ukraine.
- The Metropolitan Police have reportedly warned officers they will face disciplinary action if they travel to Ukraine to help fight the invading Russian army.
- There have been questions about the legality of Britons going abroad to fight in previous foreign conflicts.
- In 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service warned that UK nationals who went to fight in the Syrian civil war could be committing an offence, even if they joined the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
Mr Dawson is travelling to the Polish town of Medyka – the main border crossing between Poland and Ukraine – with another British man called Kai Portlock.
They are driving a van “full to the brim” with aid including food, medical supplies and children’s toys and they hope to enter Ukraine, Mr Dawson said.
He said his family were “scared” and “apprehensive” about the thought of him travelling to the war-torn country, but added: “They understood that I needed to get involved.
“I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing while women and children are being blown up.”
Briton delivering aid inspired by stories of child refugees
Mr Portlock, from Aldershot, Hampshire, said he wanted to help after a friend volunteering in a refugee centre told him children as young as three were there, along with orphans whose parents had been killed.
“It wasn’t about getting politically involved with either side – it was about doing right and wanting to help out,” the 29-year-old told Sky News.
Asked if he had wanted to join Ukraine’s military, he replied: “I was just willing to do whatever.
“We’re happy to help. It’s being realistic with what we can do, without being idiots.
“We’re going there to do good. We’re doing what needs to do to help families.
“We’re not going trying to get involved in anyone else’s war.”
Ukraine has established an “international” legion after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged foreigners to “fight side-by-side with Ukrainians” following Russia’s full-scale invasion.
The Ukrainian leader said last week more than 16,000 foreigners had volunteered, without specifying how many had arrived.
Sky News has approached the Ukrainian embassy in London for comment.