Return of the sniper Wali | “War is a terrible disappointment”

Two months after responding to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call, sniper Vali is back in Quebec – unharmed, despite nearly losing his life there “several times”. But most foreign fighters like him who have gone to Ukraine have come away bitterly disappointed, mired in the fog of war, without even having been to the front lines.

Posted at 5:00 am

Tristan Peloquin

Tristan Peloquin
The press

“I’m lucky to be alive, it was very close,” says the ex-Royal 22 soldierand Regiment, in conversation with The press at his home in the greater Montreal area.

His last mission in the Donbass region in a Ukrainian unit supporting conscripts somewhat hastened his return. Early in the morning, just as he was stationed near a trench under fire from Russian tanks, two of the conscripts came out of their blankets to smoke a cigarette. “I told them not to expose themselves like that, but they didn’t listen to me,” says Wali. Then a “high-precision” shell fire from a Russian tank erupted next to them. The scene that the outsider describes is bloodthirsty. “It exploded. I saw the shrapnel go by like lasers. My body tensed. I couldn’t hear anything, I immediately had a headache. It was really intense. »

He immediately understood that there was nothing to be done for his two badly hit Ukrainian brothers in arms. “It smelled like death, it’s hard to describe; it’s a macabre smell of charred flesh, sulfur, and chemicals. It’s so inhuman, that smell. »


PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, THE PRESS

Vali visited Ukraine in early March.

His partner, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he called her about an hour later in the middle of the night. “He tried to explain to me that there had been two deaths. He said, ‘I think I’ve done enough, huh? Have I done enough?” Looks like he wants me to tell him to come back, she says. He was awfully calm. »

In the end, his family life triumphed over his desire to help the Ukrainians, says Wali. “My heart feels like I’m going back to the front lines. I still have the flame. I like the operating room. But I pushed my luck. I have no injuries. I think to myself: How far can I throw the dice? I don’t want to lose what I have here,” says the young father, who missed his son’s first birthday at the front.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY WALI

Vali on site in the Donbass region

After a two-month stay in Ukraine, Vali draws a “rather disappointing” conclusion from the deployment of western volunteer fighters, which began in early March after a call from President Volodymyr Zelensky. The number of volunteers who showed up – more than 20,000 according to various estimates – was so great that on March 6 the Ukrainian government had to urgently establish the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

But for most of the volunteers who showed up at the border, joining a military unit was a problem.


PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, THE PRESS

Wali

Zelensky appealed to everyone, but in the field the officers were completely helpless. They didn’t know what to do with us.

Wali

He and several other Canadian ex-soldiers initially preferred to join the Norman Brigade, a private volunteer unit stationed in Ukraine for several months and led by a Quebec ex-soldier whose nickname is Hrulf.

Disagreements quickly arose among the troops, and a large number of fighters deserted the Norman Brigade.

Described three people who asked for anonymity The press Promises of weapons and protective equipment from the chief of the Norman Brigade, which never came to pass. Some of the volunteers found themselves without protective gear some 40 kilometers from the Russian front. “Had there been a Russian breakthrough, everyone would have been at risk. It was an irresponsible attitude on the part of the brigade,” says one of their former soldiers, who asked that his name be kept secret for security reasons.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY WALI

Wali is training to use a Javelin anti-tank missile

fraud and impatience

The commander of the Norman Brigade, who also asked us not to give his real name for security reasons, confirms that he has been abandoned by about sixty combatants since the beginning of the conflict. Several of them wanted to sign a treaty that would have given them status under the Geneva Conventions and guarantees of treatment by the Ukrainian state in the event of a violation. Hrulf claims some even “planned” to snatch a $500,000 US-supplied arms shipment from him to create their own combat unit.

“There are people who were in a hurry to go to the front without even having gone through the slightest security check. The Ukrainians tested us, and only now we are getting more missions. There’s an element of trust that needs to be built, and that’s totally normal,” says Hrulf.

A “terrible disappointment”

“Many volunteer fighters expect it to be turnkey, but war is the opposite, it’s a terrible disappointment,” summarizes Wali for his part.

Along with another Quebec infantryman nicknamed Shadow, the Quebec sniper eventually joined a Ukrainian unit fighting in the Kyiv region.


PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, THE PRESS

According to Wali, joining a Ukrainian military unit was a problem for the majority of western volunteers.

On the other hand, finding a weapon to fight with was a Kafkaesque exercise. “You had to know someone who knew someone who told you that they would give you an AK-47 at an old hair salon. You had to tinker with that kind of soldier’s equipment by picking up parts and ammunition left and right, in many cases with weapons in more or less good condition,” he says.

Even the meals, it is often the civilians who provide them. The same goes for gasoline to move around in a vehicle. You constantly have to organize yourself, know someone who knows someone.

Wali

  • Vali brought back a box of Russian rations he had recovered from the wreckage of a wrecked vehicle.

    PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, THE PRESS

    Vali brought back a box of Russian rations he had recovered from the wreckage of a wrecked vehicle.

  • The ex-sniper also reported on this 30mm shell fired by a Russian tank.

    PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, THE PRESS

    The ex-sniper also reported on this 30mm shell fired by a Russian tank.

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After a few weeks on Ukrainian territory, some of the most experienced Western soldiers were recruited by Ukrainian military intelligence and would now take part in special operations behind enemy lines, one of them said.

Others, less experienced, “jump from one Airbnb to another” while waiting to be recruited by a unit that will take them to the front lines, says Wali.

However, the majority have chosen to go home, say several people interviewed for this article. “Many come to Ukraine with bulging chests, but they leave with their tails between their legs,” says Wali.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY WALI

Fire caused by bombing of Ukrainian positions near Irpin in suburb of Kyiv

In the end, he himself said he only fired two bullets into windows “to scare people” and never really got within enemy firing range. “It’s a machine war,” in which the “extremely brave” Ukrainian soldiers suffer very heavy casualties from the shelling, but “miss many opportunities” to weaken the enemy because they lack military-technical knowledge, he summarizes. “If the Ukrainians had the procedures that we had in Afghanistan to communicate with the artillery, we could have caused carnage,” he believes.

But Wali does not hide his desire to return there despite everything. “You never know when foreign fighters on the ground will make a difference. It’s like a fire extinguisher: it’s useless until the fire starts. »


PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, THE PRESS

Despite everything, the former sniper does not rule out a return to Ukraine.

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