On Second Thoughts, Maybe Not: UK U-Turns on Allowing Britons to Volunteer in Ukraine

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 27: Crowds of protestors are seen during a demonstration
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Downing Street officials have now contradicted earlier advice that British citizens could travel to Ukraine to take up arms against Russia, pointing out that this is, in fact illegal under UK law.

Downing Street has told Britons that they might want to hold off on travelling to Ukraine in order to face off against invading Russians, saying that those who do so may be breaking the law.

This is despite comments from the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, initially encouraging those in the country to take up arms against Putin’s forces on behalf of Ukraine. She had said at the weekend of Ukraine defending itself from Russia: “…if people want to support that struggle, I would support them in doing that”.

A television crew from Britain’s Sky News recorded Tuesday that there is a Ukrainian army officer at the front gate of the Ukrainian embassy in London handing out sign-up information to would-be volunteers. The Daily Mail claimed there were dozens of former British soldiers making the trip.

However, according to a report by The Guardian, officials within Number Ten have now distanced themselves from Truss’ initial comments apparently giving international brigade would-bes the green light.

“We fully recognise the strength of feeling about British people wanting to support the Ukrainians following the Russian invasion,” the publication reports one government spokesman as saying. “There is advice up on travelling to Ukraine. We currently advise against travelling to Ukraine, as you can see from the website.”

According to the official website of the Foreign Office, those looking to take up arms face could face possible criminal proceedings upon their return. It said as of Tuesday: “If you travel to eastern Ukraine to fight, or to assist others engaged in the conflict, your activities may amount to offences against UK terrorism or other legislation and you could be prosecuted on your return to the UK.”

This warning stands in stark contrast to comments previously made by the British Foreign Secretary, who made absolutely clear that she supported people travelling to fight for Ukraine, despite a long history of British citizens being prosecuted for fighting as volunteers in other warzones.

“The people of Ukraine are fighting for freedom and democracy, not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe because that is what President Putin is challenging,” Truss previously said. “And absolutely, if people want to support that struggle, I would support them in doing that.”

One-time British soldier, now member of parliament and chairman of the Parlimanet defence committee Tobias Ellwood sounded a note of caution on those considering going to Ukraine to fight, however, suggesting those without actual military training would be more of a hindrance than a help.

“We say NO to tasking the NATO alliance – but now endorse UK civilians, with no military training, to go and fight in Ukraine!” wrote Tobias Ellwood MP online.

“Please do NOT go if you have no combat experience,” he continued. “You may get yourself and others who have to look after you, killed.”

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