Many of Britain’s Lads Army who travelled to fight Putin’s army in Ukraine are facing Russian troops on the front lines.
Shortly after the war in Ukraine broke out, groups of men gathered outside the Ukrainian embassy in west London to answer comic-turned-wartime leader Volodymyr Zelensky’s call to arms for foreign fighters to join his country’s defence against Russia.
Brits to sign up to fight Russian despot Vladimir Putin’s army have included former sniper Shane Matthews, 34, ex-carer Aiden Aslin, 28, who fought Isis in Syria, and former soldier Shaun Pinner, 48, who has a Ukrainian wife.
Lawyers have warned that Britons who fight in Ukraine could be prosecuted under UK terror laws – much like those who took arms for Kurdish militia forces against ISIS in Syria.
Former Lance Corporal Shane Matthews, 34, (pictured in Ukraine) from Chichester, said most of the forces heading to the front line ‘are civilians’ who ‘have never held a rifle before’,
Shane Matthews, who completed multiple tours of Afghanistan and Iraq as a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, flew out to Poland before ‘thumbing lifts’ to the Ukrainian capital
The former British soldier is in Ukraine teaching combat medical training
Mr Matthews (pictured on tour in Afghanistan in around 2008) completed multiple tours of Afghanistan and Iraq as a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment
He joined Britain’s Lads Army to fight for President Zelensky’s Ukraine against Putin’s invading Russian army
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Around 20,000 volunteers from around the world have already signed up to fight, with at least 15,000 already on the ground in Ukraine, including a small contingent of Brits.
Mr Matthews completed multiple tours of Afghanistan and Iraq as a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment.
He flew out to Poland before ‘thumbing lifts’ to the Ukrainian capital, where he has been helping to fortify the city and train civilians.
He maintained he only had his rifle with him for self-defence and was focused on training rather than fighting.
The ex-soldier said he has witnessed Russian shells ‘raining down’ on bridges, churches and schools as bombs fell ‘indiscriminately’.
He also shared harrowing photos of the devastation.
However, he predicted that Ukraine would ultimately triumph.
This week he watched through his sniper scope as 12 Russian soldiers were caugfht in a firefight as they entered Irpin, near Kyiv.
‘The Taliban would do a better job . . . there’s no way they could encircle Kyiv,’ he told The Times.
He was convinced he was on ‘the winning side’ after he witnessed Russian troops’ ‘complete incompetence’ in Irpin.
Speaking from the streets of Irpin, a district northwest of Kyiv, Matthews said last week: ‘These photos I have put up are of the ‘military targets’ being attacked [by the Russians] today.
‘Military targets being a church, a two-storey school, a bridge… which was attacked as civilians were evacuating from the city.
‘I have just spoken to a chap whose dad was killed two days ago and today in the artillery strike that we were in just now, his son was killed.
‘And this is ‘denazification’?
‘They are indiscriminately shelling every target in this city and the world’s just going to sit and watch this?
‘It’s wrong – it’s a genocide.
‘[They’re] war crimes.’
Matthews added that he had narrowly avoided being hit by artillery fire while drinking tea.
He said: ‘We were sat in this lovely summer house, just about to drink tea, and about 50m through there [a wood block], 120mm artillery just started raining down.’
In recent days, the experienced sniper has been teaching Ukrainian defence forces how to treat battlefield casualties.
Most of the forces heading to the front line ‘are civilians’ who ‘have never held a rifle before’, the former Lance Corporal added.
Mr Matthews came out of retirement to help Ukrainian forces with training as well as fortifictaion tactics
This week Mr Matthews (pictured on tour in Iraq in around 2011) watched through his sniper scope as 12 Russian soldiers were caugfht in a firefight as they entered Irpin, near Kyivn
The ex-soldier said he has witnessed Russian shells ‘raining down’ on bridges, churches and schools as bombs fell ‘indiscriminately’, sharing harrowing photos of the devastation – but predicted that Ukraine would ultimately triumph
Speaking from the streets of Irpin, a district northwest of Kyiv, Matthews said: ‘These photos I have put up are of the ‘military targets’ being attacked [by the Russians] today – military targets being a church, a two-storey school, a bridge… which was attacked as civilians were evacuating from the city’
However, Matthews insisted the Ukrainians fighting spirit was second to none and they had been ‘absolutely hammering’ the Russians in Irpin.
‘The Ukrainian artillery was absolutely hammered the Russians while I was giving one of my medical lessons,’ he said.
‘Apparently the Russians have got no defensive positions in Irpin so the Ukrainian boys are absolutely hammering them, which is good news.’
A 19-year-old member of the Queen’s Guard, whose identity has not been revealed for security reasons, dropped his ceremonial duties as a Coldstream Guardsman and signed up for Ukraine’s International Legion of foreign volunteer fighters
Pictured, members of Ukraine’s international legion. Volunteers from the US, UK, Sweden, Lithuania and Mexico have joined
Pictured, volunteers from Portugal and Brazil in Ukraine army fatigues in the days following Putin’s invasion
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – which he had anticipated would last only a few days with limited casualties – is now nearing its third week with heavy losses on both sides, as Moscow gives the first signs it could be willing to end the fighting by saying there has been ‘substantial progress’ in peace talks
Matthews added: ‘On another note, all signs point towards Irpin being pushed through by the Russians – convoy killers in place, everything is fortified to hell and I can safely say that a collapse of the city will not happen.
‘The guerrilla-style tactics being employed by the Ukrainians is something you simply cannot defend against, it’s like the Taliban on steroids.’
Another Briton on the front line in Ukraine is Aiden Aslin, 28, a former carer who previously fought against Isis with Kurdish militia in Syria.
He said being in Ukraine was ‘mentally exhausting’.
Aiden Aslin, 28, (pictured) is a former carer who previously fought against Isis in Syria. Now he is prepared to fight against a Russian invasion of Ukraine
Both Mr Aslin (left) and Mr Pinner (right) are prepared to fight off a Russian invasion in Ukraine as they wait on the frontline
Shaun Pinner, 48, (pictured) is one of at least ten UK nationals who have travelled to the country’s wartorn eastern region, known as the Donbas, to take on pro-Moscow separatists
‘The threat of danger is constant and something as simple as going to the toilet could end up with you getting injured because drones can drop grenades,’ he told Al Jazeera.
Mr Aslin previously spent ten months in Iraq fighting Islamic State.
On his return home in 2016 he was arrested. He was held for 30 hours after officers boarded his plane at Heathrow, where members of his family were eagerly awaiting his arrival.
Mr Pinner, who previously served in the Royal Anglian Regiment, said he fought with the Ukrainian army as a ‘contract soldier
He was immediately taken to Nottinghamshire Police headquarters for questioning over a suspected terrorism offence.
His Ukrainian girlfriend, who is in a city under siege by Russian forces, told The Times it was difficult to stay in touch with him as the war raged on.
Yet Mr Aslin is not the only Britain ready to fight off a Russian invasion.
The former carer has been joined by ex-soldier Shaun Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire.
Mr Pinner is married to a Ukrainian woman and has been in Donbas for the past four years.
He previously served in the Royal Anglian Regiment and said he fought with the Ukrainian army as a ‘contract soldier’.
Speaking from a trench ten miles outside Mariupol, he said: ‘I am here defending my family and adopted city. Russia started this war – it’s funded by Russia and driven by Russia. But we will fight them, make no mistake about that.’
Mr Pinner said fighting in the trenches was ‘like Hell’, with snipers ‘less than 600m away’.
Pinner reportedly told his Instagram followers last week he was ‘working relentlessly… Digging, cleaning, fighting and more digging’.
Aiden Aslin, 28, was held for 30 hours by Nottinghamshire Police on his return to the UK from Iraq in 2016
Mr Pinner said there has been tension in Ukraine’ for years’.
‘It’s only new to Europe, who have finally woken up to what’s happening here,’ he told Al Jazeera.
Mr Pinner is one of the oldest in his unit, which has three Brits and one Croatian as well as Ukrainians.
The team is known as the Marines First Battalion. ‘I’ve always got something to prove,’ Mr Pinner added.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (pictured) said the UK will back Britons going to fight in Ukraine
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (pictured) said he didn’t ‘want to see British people killed any more than I want to see Ukrainians’ and asked people who were not properly trained or an ‘experienced member of an armed forced’ not to join the war in Ukraine
Although Foreign Secretary Liz Truss gave her backing to Britons who wanted to join the resistance movement, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and a No 10 spokesman both appeared to contradict her.
Mr Wallace said he didn’t ‘want to see British people killed any more than I want to see Ukrainians’.
He asked people who were not properly trained or an ‘experienced member of an armed forced’ not to join the war in Ukraine.