- Infighting has plagued some US volunteers who’ve fought in Ukraine, per a New York Times report.
- The squabbles have not only threatened the war effort, but have exposed deeply consequential lies.
- Some volunteers have left the war effort in Ukraine after questions arose about their backgrounds.
After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last year, groups of Americans — many of them US military veterans — committed themselves to fight in the conflict to aid the Ukrainian government in battling back Moscow’s advances.
But a recent New York Times report detailed how many of those volunteers became mired in infighting, jeopardizing the success of the war effort, while some poured money down the toilet after purchasing less-effective military gear and others have sought to make money off the conflict.
The Times spoke with over 30 volunteers, fighters, and officials in both the US and Ukraine about these situations.
In one case, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel may have potentially exported military technology illegally, while in another case, an ex-Army soldier came to Ukraine to aid in the war effort but later defected to Russia.
And a Connecticut man who went to fight in Ukraine and has posted his location on the battlefield admitted to The Times that he falsified his military record, previously claiming to be a Marine.
While some volunteers who went to Ukraine were killed in the war, the spotlight on the role of volunteers has grown exponentially as the conflict has moved past the one-year mark.
‘I had to tell a million lies to get ahead’
In the interviews conducted by The Times, individuals told the newspaper of errors and disputes that have limited the effectiveness of the volunteer effort since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
At the start of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy encouraged allies to help the country defend itself against Russian forces. While some individuals joined the International Legion, which was created by Ukraine last year as a foreign military unit, others aided in fundraising efforts for the conflict.
However, some individuals who may have otherwise raised red flags were apparently able to embed themselves in the Legion and other groups — blatantly misrepresenting facts about their backgrounds, according to the Times.
James Vasquez, a home-improvement contractor from Connecticut who made waves when he left for Ukraine last year, was hailed as an ex-Army staff sergeant who had decided to aid the country in fighting for its freedom.
But according to The Times, Vasquez not only revealed the exact location of his unit after publishing a video online he misrepresented his service record. Vasquez was never sent to Kuwait or Iraq, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman who spoke with The Times, and apparently misrepresented his duties and rank during his short stint in the Army Reserves.
But Vasquez had no issues gaining access to weaponry while in Ukraine, which included American rifles. But he was unsure where they originated.
“I’m not exactly sure,” he told The Times in a text exchange. “We have plenty.”
Vasquez fought in Ukraine until last week, when The Times probed him about his military record; he then deactivated his Twitter account and stated that he was considering leaving the country because he had been fighting alongside soldiers without a requisite military contract.
He told The Times that he had been booted from the Army, but would not delve into the reasoning. Still, he revealed that for years he’d been dishonest about his military record.
“I had to tell a million lies to get ahead,” he told The Times. “I didn’t realize it was going to come to this.”
Another major issue that has arisen is wasteful spending, driven not by malice but by individuals unaware of the efficacy of certain tools.
For example, Mriya Aid, which is commanded by a Canadian lieutenant colonel, used roughly $100,000 in donated money to purchase night-vision devices, but they wound up being less effective than ones that were made in China, per documents reviewed by The Times.
After the volunteer group, Ripley’s Heroes, had spent roughly $63,000 on night and thermal vision devices, some of the equipment fell under US export restrictions.
And Ripley’s Heroes also purchased $25,000 for remote-control reconnaissance cars in 2022, but they have yet to be delivered, tied up by Polish authorities due to legal concerns, the Times reported.
‘A verified con artist’
After the International Legion was formed, volunteers were quickly processed in roughly 10 minutes or less, according to a Legion official who spoke with The Times.
Such missteps may have accelerated problems in the unit.
A Polish fugitive who had been imprisoned in Ukraine over weapon violations eventually earned a spot leading troops, according to The Times.
And while Ukrainian officials estimated that there were possibly 20,000 Legion volunteers, that number was officially much smaller.
Individuals with knowledge of the Legion told The Times that there are roughly 1,500 members in the unit. (A recent Vice article detailed how thousands of volunteers have left Ukraine since the start of the conflict.)
One of those members was John McIntyre, a former US Army private first class who was cut from the Legion for “bad behavior,” per The Times. He then left for Russia and the outlet said he was purported to have given some kind of intelligence information to Moscow.
Malcolm Nance, an ex-Navy cryptologist and well-known cable news commentator, told Insider’s Alia Shoaib and Bethany Dawson that McIntyre was “a highly unstable character” who “was known to be a professional fuckup and mentally ill.”
Nance told the paper he came to Ukraine to offer some structure to the Legion. But he became wrapped up in some of the infighting surrounding the conflict, calling out a one-time ally as “fat” and slamming an associate as “a verified con artist,” according to The Times.
Nance is no longer in Ukraine but hasn’t stopped his fundraising efforts with another group of allies, which includes Ben Lackey, who was once in the Legion.
Lackey told Legion members that he was a Marine and said that he had been an assistant manager at LongHorn Steakhouse. But the Pentagon told The Times that Lackey didn’t have any military experience, and the steakhouse chain disclosed that he was a server and not an assistant manager.
While speaking with The Times, Lackey said he had never been a Marine, but revealed he said so in order to become a member of the Legion.