CEP Report: A Year Of Foreign Fighting For Ukraine

(New York, N.Y.) —The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is releasing its latest report A Year Of Foreign Fighting For Ukraine, authored by CEP non-resident fellow and fellow at the University of Oslo’s Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX), Dr. Kacper Rekawek. It is the third in a series of CEP reports analyzing the evolution of foreign fighters in Ukraine and is based on more than 70 interviews and intensive research conducted throughout 2022.

The report challenges misconceptions about the size and composition of foreign fighters, estimating that perhaps 2,000 foreign fighters have fought in Ukraine, far less than the often mentioned figure of 20,000, and that only small group of far-right individuals are amongst the foreign fighters active in Ukraine. These individuals are vastly outnumbered by the much larger body of “concerned citizens of the world” hailing predominately from Belarus, Georgia, English-speaking Western nations, Europe, Brazil, Latin American, and East Asia.

Foreign fighters, the report finds, also regularly rotate back home for rest and recovery and subsequently return to Ukraine—a practice that aligns with Ukrainian flexibility and improvisation that have become hallmarks of their way of conducting war. Unfortunately, governments are ill-prepared to support individuals returning from service as a volunteer with the Ukrainian armed forces. The report recommends a de-securitized approach to non-extremists that prioritizes mental health, consistent communication between the returnee and government authorities via third parties, and potential protection from Russian retaliation for fighters with a public role and profile.

CEP Non-Resident Fellow Dr. Kacper Rekawek said:

“The Russo-Ukrainian war tests existing models of how European or Western governments address the issue of their citizens fighting in foreign wars. Currently, most systems are geared towards dealing with individuals who joined proscribed terrorist entities in foreign countries. As this report details, the foreign volunteers and foreign fighters in Ukraine are very different, and thus require a very different approach to effectively manage their return home.”

To read CEP’s report A Year Of Foreign Fighting For Ukraine, please click here.

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