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In Ukraine With Soldiers From the International Legion


There are many reasons a foreigner might enlist to fight a war that has nothing to do with him.

One, of course, is money. The open-ended contracts in Ukraine pay, on average, about $2,500 a month, a tempting sum for some of the men who came there from countries with few good economic opportunities for them.

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

One soldier, a Pole who goes by the call sign 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 as if he was at a dead end.

Yes, the pay is appealing, Konrad 13 said, but so was feeling a sense of purpose.

“When I came here, my life changed,” he said. “I started to grow here. It’s been an evolution, and I have felt my life returned to me. I’ve changed and become a different kind of person. This is my family now — my true family.”

Over the course of their rotation — the Ukrainian military forbids saying how long it lasts, and how many fighters are in the unit — the men were involved in repeated engagements with the Russians across the way. During the day, fighting flared up every three or four hours, generally lasting an hour. At night came the bombs.

At the end of their rotation, with a fresh group of soldiers arriving to relieve them, the soldiers prepared their packs for the journey out. But they had to hold off: A Russian drone had appeared overhead at the end edge of the last trench.

It was over an hour before Tsygan cleared his men to venture into the open space separating them from the trenches and a moment of peace.

Before it was time to return to the fight.

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