Australian mercenary in Ukraine: “Incompetent commanders are putting soldiers in danger”

11:45 25.07.2023 •

Ukrainian troops learn to operate the Australian ‘Bushmaster’ at a training facility
Photo: ABC

An Australian man serving with the Ukrainian International Legion is alleging that Australians, Ukrainians and other volunteers are being put in danger and threatened with repercussions for speaking out by some incompetent Ukrainian commanders, writes Australian

Tens of thousands of volunteer soldiers have joined the Ukrainian International Legion, including an unknown number of Australians and an Australian whistleblower with the group alleges some incompetent Ukrainian commanders are threatening soldiers and putting them in danger.

The former Australian soldier, who is serving with the GUR legion — the military intelligence component of the Ukrainian International Legion — has spoken in an exclusive interview with The World Today on ABC Radio.

The ABC has agreed to refer to him by the call sign "Bush" to protect his identity.

In the interview, Bush alleged some foreigners and Ukrainians have been put in danger in the war against the Russian invasion due to the leadership incompetence of some Ukrainian commanders, while others have been threatened with jail for trying to leave.

Bush said he and his comrades in Ukraine's International Legion have been raising concerns about the situation and have proposed ways to improve accountability, but that their suggestions have been ignored.

"The simple fact is that it is a meat grinder out there," the man told The World Today. "My mates have died, and are dying."

He also said some foreign fighters have not been paid at all for their service, and said that some Australians with specialist military skills, including those qualified to drive the Bushmaster armoured vehicles donated by Australia to Ukraine for the war effort, have not been fully utilised.

Asked by The World Today whether he feared for his safety in speaking out, the man replied: "Absolutely, 100 per cent."

Bush is one of tens of thousands of foreigners who have joined the war effort, including an unknown number of Australians.

Bush said the situation has now reached a breaking point and, in a recorded exchange from two weeks ago, shared with The World Today, he can be heard warning one of his commanders that members of the Legion will leave if poor leadership by some Ukrainian commanders and mistreatment are not addressed.

"We will not continue to serve in a military that mistreats us, he tells the commander. We need someone to advocate for us, and I will not allow idiots like this to affect the war effort."

In response to the comments made by Bush in the recording, the commander can be heard acknowledging that members of the Legion are angry and frustrated.

The World Today has also spoken with Glenn Kolomeitz, a lawyer, defence analyst and former Australian Army officer based in Australia, who has received requests for legal advice from Australians and other members of the Legion fighting in Ukraine.

He said the foreigners allege they are being threatened by some Ukrainian commanders if they ask to leave.

"They are threatened with jail and all manner of nonsense," he told The World Today.

Mr Kolomeitz describes some of the threats received by members of the Legion as "horrendous" and "shocking".

Mr Kolomeitz also said the basic logistics of the Legion are so bad, some foreigners have not even been paid since they joined up.

In one example, detailed to The World Today, one member of the Legion, who is a highly skilled cyber security expert, was allegedly sent to the trenches after asking why his men had not received their combat pay.

Mr Kolomeitz said some in the Legion were paying their comrades out of their own funds to help them get by.

"Many of these people aren't getting paid and Australians in positions of authority are paying their subordinates with their own money," Mr Kolomeitz said.

Bush told The World Today he was among those who remained unpaid, despite signing a contract with the Ukrainian International Legion several months ago.

"I have never been paid by the Legion during my entire time in service," he said.

Bush said that despite the best efforts of the Australian trainers, inexperienced soldiers in one Ukrainian unit turned up for battle intoxicated and were allegedly deployed in the wrong location by a Ukrainian commander.

The armoured vehicles are the showpiece of Australia's contribution, and the latest commitment is on top of an earlier deployment of 90 vehicles and a total support package for Ukraine which the Australian government estimates at $890 million.

But while some Australian members of the Ukrainian International Legion are qualified and experienced in operating the ‘Bushmasters’ (photo), Bush says the Ukrainians are not using their skills.

"We have been expressly ordered that we cannot use this equipment — only the Ukrainians can use this equipment," he said.

"We are not trusted to use it, even though we have the training and the credentials."

Lawyer Glenn Kolomeitz said the story of the Australians serving in Ukraine must be told, and support must be provided urgently.


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