‘It’s kill or be killed’: South Americans will fight in Ukraine | Ukraine

Emílio Teixeira Alarcón thinks he knows exactly how he will feel after killing his first Russian soldier.

“Mission accomplished,” shrugged the Brazilian army reservist. “In war, it’s either kill or be killed.”

“If I have someone in my line of sight and I don’t shoot, they might shoot me. It’s like a game of paintball,” he added, as the mid-morning sun bathed his home north of Rio.

Paintball is the closest Alarcón, 43, has ever come to active combat. He served in his city’s 21st Field Artillery Regiment in the late 1990s before embarking on political activism and the fight against what he calls “the scourge of communism.” He never left Brazil.

But with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, Alarcón said he saw an inescapable opportunity to wage real war against the ideology he believes Vladimir Putin represents. “What is happening is surreal… It puts the whole world in danger,” said the Rio-born nationalist who leads an anti-communist group called “O Pesadelo de Qualquer Político” (“Every politician’s nightmare”). “That’s why the whole world is mobilizing to go there, including the Brazilians.”

Alarcón, who has been fundraising for his mission since day one of the war, is not the only Latin American to consider traveling thousands of miles east to the Ukrainian front line.

From Brazil and Argentina to Mexico and Colombia, volunteer fighters have expressed interest in joining – or have already joined – the Ukrainian International Legion for what they describe as a mixture of ideological, humanitarian and financial reasons.

Volunteers range from hardened veterans of Colombia’s US-backed “drug war” to Argentinian students who have never taken a gun and Brazilian Instagram influencers who have been criticized for putting lives at risk by using conflict as bait.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the creation of the legion three days after the February 24 Russian invasion, telling would-be fighters: “Please come, we will give you weapons.

Uriel Saavedra, a former member of Colombia’s police unit which protects government officials and public figures, said he hoped to reach the battlefield within a fortnight after pledging to fight through a security company based in Colombia.

“If someone wants me to go to war in Ukraine, well, obviously they will have to pay, because the risk of coming back dead is so high,” said Saavedra, 40, who expects to receive 10,000 dollars per month. of the company that recruited him and about thirty other veterans.

Saavedra, who saw the post advertised on a WhatsApp group for military and police veterans, acknowledged it was dangerous. “But we are ready. We can use any weapon they give us,” said the soldier of fortune who sees war as a way to supplement his $1,000-a-month state pension.

Brazilian reservist Isaías Diogo da Boa Morte said he was driven by anger at Putin’s ruthless assault on civilians. “It’s so loose,” said the 43-year-old who served with Alarcón and is part of his squad.

Boa Morte said her son was horrified. “Damn, dad, are you crazy?” he asked. But the reservist was determined to travel, despite concerns about sub-zero temperatures. “We’ll be so full of adrenaline when we arrive that we won’t notice the cold,” Boa Morte said as he sat next to a pool at a Rio sports club wearing flip-flops and shorts.

Isaías Diogo da Boa Morte, a 43-year-old Brazilian reservist who also plans to travel from his home in Rio de Janeiro to join the International Legion in Ukraine. Photography: Alan Lima/The Guardian

Some Latin American legionnaires have already reached Ukraine, including Tiago Rossi, a gunnery instructor from southern Brazil who said he left for his first war in early March, a day after turning 28.

Rossi, who said he was accompanied by two other Brazilians – a former infantryman and a former paratrooper – recalled meeting fighters from South American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Colombia, whose mercenaries are coveted by contractors because of their experience fighting left-wing rebels, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers.

Rossi insisted that he was not afraid of dying on a battlefield more than 11,000 kilometers from his home in the town of Maringá: “I came here to fulfill my mission – if I die, it is because that is how God wanted it.

But how such bravado will hold up in the face of the horrific realities of the conflict in Ukraine is unclear. Rossi said he retreated to Poland after Russia bombed the Yavoriv military base where he was staying. He said he had no intention of returning and would instead seek to help South Americans in Polish refugee centers. “I think I will be more useful here than there [in Ukraine].”

Alarcón, who said he has more than 20,000 hours of range experience, continues to raise funds but hopes to get started soon. “My specialty is using cannons and machine guns to shoot down planes – so I think we would help make a difference,” the Army Reserve Artillery Corporal said, wondering if the Guardian might ask. wealthy readers to buy his group body armor and plane tickets.

After receiving a negative response, Alarcón said: “England have a vested interest in seeing Brazilians go there to help. It’s much closer to Ukraine and Russia than to Brazil… What will happen if this madman drops an atomic bomb?

Many of the Brazilian volunteers appear to be followers of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a popular former paratrooper at the military base. But Bolsonaro, who visited Moscow on the eve of the Russian invasions and appeared to side with Putin, outraged some supporters with his stance.

Tiago Rossi, a shooting instructor from southern Brazil, who said he left for the Ukrainian conflict in early March but returned to Poland after his base was bombed
Tiago Rossi, a shooting instructor from southern Brazil, who said he left in early March for the Ukrainian conflict but returned to Poland after his base was bombed. Photography: The Guardian

Alarcón has vowed never to vote for Bolsonaro again. “I wanted to do television,” his father, Emílio Galdeano, 68, said of the moment he saw Bolsonaro express his “solidarity” with Russia nine days before the war.

Emílio Galdeano, a retired shooting range owner, said he was too old for the fight but was supporting his son, despite fearing for his safety. “If it was a child, I would tie it to the foot of the bed and hide it a bit with my belt. But he’s too old for that, he sighed.

This week, Alarcón believed he had taken an important step towards the theater of war after a kyiv contractor launched a campaign to send up to 50 Brazilians to Poland. “I have goosebumps,” Alarcón celebrated after hearing the news. “I think help is on the way for us.”

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