Near Kharkiv, Ukraine
We drive on bumpy, unpaved roads and the local police escort us to a wooded area where they say a unit of foreign fighters is stationed. It’s a village like so many in this part of Ukraine – houses destroyed and visible signs of shelling.
The distant rumble of outgoing artillery can be heard as we walk under the cover of trees. A small snake glides past and quickly disappears. We walk up a small slope and come to a courtyard where soldiers hastily pack a vehicle in which they intend to go to the front lines. American accents echo back and forth on the radio.
Amazed and stunned to see a group of journalists wave us away. Obviously they have other pressing matters. But after back and forth with the commander, we’re told to find an American fighter and medic, known to her unit as “Baby Dog.”
She stands under the hot Ukrainian sun – dressed in a full military uniform, her medical equipment in the flak bags. Her pistol rests from her right shoulder and the yellow tape – a sign of loyalty to Ukraine – is wrapped around her left shoulder and arm. She covers her face with a dark green balaclava as she speaks to the camera. Only her eyes are visible through her glasses.
“I didn’t do much at home. It was just two jobs, pretty boring,” Baby Dog told DailyExpertNews.
This 21-year-old American paramedic, who had her two jobs, was living a humdrum life in Utah when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. She saw the situation unfold on the news and felt the need to do something.
So she bought a one-way ticket to Ukraine and joined the fight to defend the country under attack by Russian troops.
“This is something human. You can’t sit back and watch. It’s like watching someone kick a dog for no reason, kick a dog in the head. It’s crying. You can’t stop it,” the paramedic told DailyExpertNews in a village on the outskirts of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine.
DailyExpertNews has declined to disclose its name or the exact location of the unit due to security concerns and risks to the foreign fighters stationed there.
She joined the Ukrainian International Legion of Territorial Defense, a program launched by the government in late February to recruit foreign fighters, and became a soldier. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a week after the unit’s launch that 20,000 people from 52 countries had volunteered to fight in Ukraine.
Working as a paramedic in a unit made up of many American and German fighters, Baby Dog likens her new life to something out of a James Bond movie.
Bond has seen his share of violence and death, and she experienced it for the first time a few weeks ago: witnessing fights up close.
“I was wearing my big doctor’s bag. Everyone had all their stuff on. It was raining, it was miserable,” she said. “We climbed a 45-degree hill on the road and then out of nowhere, just this huge cluster bomb.”
The force of the blast threw her into the tree line, Baby Dog said. She could see one of their soldiers on the road, so she got up and started running towards him when the second bomb hit.
“I got there and then the second barrage went off,” she said. “They usually come here in pairs.”
Russia’s use of the “double tap” tactic of hitting the same location twice with an interval of a few minutes is causing chaos. According to Baby Dog, the bombs were cluster munitions — small bombs in a main bomb that explode sporadically, creating even more chaos in an already unstable situation.
“We managed to draw him (the wounded soldier) in the treeline as the cluster bomb went off,” said Baby Dog, describing her Dutch comrade’s harrowing experience. “When we got to him, he was already dead.”
Her fallen comrade was just one of the foreign fighters killed in fighting in Ukraine. Last Saturday, International Legion of Defense spokesman Damien Magrou paid tribute to four combatants who had recently been killed.
“We want to commemorate and honor our fallen brothers, who traveled to Ukraine to join the bravest of the brave and fight shoulder to shoulder with the defenders of Ukraine,” Magrou said, calling the fighters “unsung heroes.” who came here for the values they believed in and resisted tyranny.”
And earlier this week, a court in the pro-Russian self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) sentenced three foreign fighters to death on charges of working as “mercenaries” in Ukraine. The men, two British and a Moroccan, were captured in Mariupol in mid-April while the battle for the port city was underway.
“It was very tough. The thought of something like that could have been me,” Baby Dog told DailyExpertNews of the loss of her comrade. She says the horrors she saw and experienced have shaken her faith in God.
“Before, I hadn’t really seen what a human being can do to another human being for no reason. And it kind of shook me up to think that He would allow this or just let it happen,” she said, looking away, tapping the butt of her pistol with her thumb.
And while she hasn’t had any dreams that haunt her sleep – any dreams – of going back to the US in the future and assimilating back into a world where war is something seen only in movies and on the news, will take time.
‘I’ll have to play artillery in the background to go to sleep. I don’t know,’ she said with a chuckle.
“It’s definitely going to be very different.”