“Come this way,” Pawel Sadzikowski said, opening the flap of a large tent and greeting another volunteer inside. A mother stands with a baby on her hips, women sit on luggage. Behind them, at the back of the tent, more than half a dozen men in military uniforms sit on chairs, checking the pockets of their gear and preparing for war.
You are part of an international legion of volunteers from all over the world who will join the Ukrainian army to defend the country from Russian attacks.
Pawel, an ice cream vendor from Ashbourne, County Meath, is the soldier assigned to lead them across the Polish border into Ukraine at Medyka.
Born in Poland, he is survived by his wife and two children, aged seven and 14 Business in Co Meath to join the so-called International Legion of Ukraine two weeks ago.
He has been stationed in western Ukraine for 11 days, introducing volunteers to the war zone. His wife is very worried.
“She says I’m a stupid man,” he said, but he understands where she’s coming from.
His seven-year-old son, on the other hand, doesn’t understand it.
“He’s glad Daddy’s at war. He’s happy, you know,” he said.
“My daughter is very…how should I explain…very worried. She is 14 years old and understands everything.”
Pawel is aware of the risks. He has military experience from his time in the Polish army and knows how to use a weapon – but, as he says himself, that was 20 years ago.
Last weekend, Russian missiles hit an army training center in Yaroviv, south of Lviv and near the border. 35 men were killed, many of them volunteer soldiers, and dozens more were injured.
“I know what can happen… it might be a possibility,” he said.
Pavel was drawn into the war when Russian troops intensified their attacks on civilian targets. “Russian armed forces are not soldiers. This is barbaric, barbaric. You are not soldiers. Soldiers shoot soldiers, not women and children,” he said.
It is also a motivation for the 11 volunteers that Pawel will lead to Poland at dawn the next morning.
Chris, from South Yorkshire, said: “The biscuit was the children’s hospital bombing. It was an absolutely outrageous and shameful thing.”
Trained in the British Army, he went on to work in Afghanistan, Syria and Sierra Leone as a gunner providing ‘surveillance’ or cover for security details.
He flew on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Poland on Tuesday in full riot gear after spending the weekend visiting his girlfriend.
John, from Essex, said he was committed to helping civilians not fighting on the front lines.
“To be honest, I’m not here to fight someone else’s war. I don’t think the other guys do either. I think we’re here to help get people out. All the guys I’ve spoken to at the moment have said they’d rather do extractions than go to war.”
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John, a former soldier, had been delivering relief supplies to Poland but decided it wasn’t enough.
“I traveled back to England last weekend and got as far as Germany. I got out of the van and got on a plane and flew back. Just handing over the tool wasn’t enough for me. It just wouldn’t settle with me. Luckily I already had my gear with me, just in case.”
On Tuesday evening, the men were preparing to settle in the tent next to the Medyka pedestrian crossing in Ukraine in the face of an uncertain war, uncertain when or if they will return home, or what weapons they will need in the event of combat.
Pawel said he intends to stay until “it’s ready”.
“I feel good, I’m a happy man. My life wasn’t that bad up until that moment.”
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/russian-forces-are-not-soldiers-this-is-barbaric-the-ice-cream-man-from-ashbourne-who-is-poised-for-battle-in-ukraine-41467066.html “Russian armed forces are not soldiers. This is barbaric’ – the Ashbourne ice cream man ready for battle in Ukraine