An Australian pensioner told why he traveled to Ukraine not once, but twice to help in the fight against Russia.
Australian Brian Williamson is an unlikely soldier in Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
The 57-year-old retired traveled to Ukraine last March to join the country’s foreign legion after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged foreign nationals to “fight shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians.”
The Maroochydor man has since been threatened by the Russians, wounded in a rocket attack, and stuck in the country after his pension was cut.
Speaking of Ukraine, where he is now involved in frontline relief work, Williamson said he felt the need to travel after watching news of the war.
“In early March, I was sitting at home watching TV, and then the news appeared on the news that the Russians had attacked a kindergarten and a maternity hospital. I thought I should help and arranged to come and join the foreign legion,” he said.
Shortly after his arrival in the country, Mr. Williamson’s base was hit by Russian rockets in an attack that killed dozens of would-be fighters and wounded more than 100.
“I was in Ukraine for five days. I fell asleep in the army barracks and was thrown out of bed by the explosion. I immediately understood what it was, grabbed my boots and jacket and headed to the pre-arranged meeting point.
“The building directly in front of us was ablaze with flames and fireballs. I ran along the wall of the building towards the road that led to the meeting point, the second rocket hit the building, throwing me about 50 meters into the air and towards our barracks. I was bombarded with concrete and steel,” he said.
After five nights of waiting for more attacks in the frozen forest trenches, Mr. Williamson was ordered to leave due to a back injury he sustained during a rocket attack.
But just three weeks after returning to his native Sunny Beach, he decided to return to Ukraine. This time as a humanitarian worker, where he delivered aid to front-line hospitals for several weeks.
“We brought vans with medicines and food from the west and delivered them to front-line hospitals and aid centers. The day before I was supposed to return, the government suspended my pension and I ended up stuck in Ukraine for another three weeks,” he said.
After spending some time in Australia, he made the difficult decision to return to Ukraine again.
“When I got home, I felt like a stranger. I felt it was better for me to be here helping people. I have returned and now we have a bus that we are converting into a stretcher vehicle to go to the front lines and evacuate wounded civilians and possibly soldiers to cities where they can receive treatment,” he said.
Mr Williamson is part of a small, diverse group of Australians in Ukraine, some of whom are deliverers and emergency workers, while others are frontline fighters and trainers in the Ukrainian army.
Earlier this month, an unidentified Australian fighter was wounded in action in the country’s east.
This happened just a few days after the death of Australian Michael O’Neill, a friend of Mr Williamson.
While many Australians were put on the “no-fly list” after trying to join the Foreign Legion, some slipped through and are now serving in the Ukrainian army.
The Australian Government continues to strongly advise against all travel to Ukraine, and those who go to fight may face prosecution upon return to Australia.
The travel advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade states: “In these circumstances, our ability to provide consular assistance in Ukraine is extremely limited. The Australian government will not be able to evacuate you from Ukraine.”.
Originally published as Australian pensioner told why he went to fight in Ukraine